SEC prepares for a 2017 'game changer' in locker room video
Allowing coaches and players to review video in the locker room could make a huge difference to how teams adjust during games
DESTIN, Florida -- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema loves using technology for football, so the NCAA's reluctant embrace of video is right up his alley. Starting in 2017, college football plans to allow electronic devices for coaching purposes in the locker room and press boxes during games.
"What everybody thinks is going to be a subtle thing might be one of the greatest game changers in college football history," Bielema said.
The NCAA Football Rules Committee initially approved the rule for 2016. But the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) delayed it one year due to feedback from all three NCAA divisions that more time was needed to develop guidelines for consistent application of the rule, help manage costs and consider unintended consequences.
At the recent SEC Spring Meetings, the league's coaches were already considering how to use video in the locker room. Bielema laid out a hypothetical scenario: What if Arkansas' offense isn't on the field and goes into the locker room to watch some plays?
"It would be a huge, huge advantage," Bielema said. "It's a locker room. They just went in to use the facilities. That's the part of the SEC I've come to know. You're going to take everything that you've been given and kind of expand it a little bit."
For the longest time, college football has been woefully behind the curve with technology during games. Younger coaches who are more technologically savvy want to take advantage of advances that could benefit coaching during the game.
For instance, NFL play callers have been able to communicate with quarterbacks through the player's helmet since 1994 and with a defensive player since 2008. Helmet communication continues to be discussed in college football, though nothing has been approved.
The National Federation of State High School Associations has for several years allowed any form of communication technology during high school football games when outside the nine-yard marks, on the sidelines and during halftime.
"The crazy part of this is I sat on the (NCAA) rules committee five years ago," Bielema said, "and I listened to the national high school director talk about their use of computers in high school games and we're still using etch-a-sketch and I'm going, 'This doesn't make a lot of sense.'"
National officiating coordinator Rogers Redding said the NCAA Football Rules Committee's committee's strategy with electronically devices was "let's get this technology started rather than think about it more and get reaction as we go." The rule would not have allowed video on the sidelines.
The idea was to frame the rule so it would allow for equal connectivity for home and visiting coaches, but leave the details up to schools and conferences over which equipment to use. The issue became when conferences provided feedback to PROP that they needed more time for there to be equitable conditions for both teams in a game, Redding said.
Bielema described the reaction to using video at halftime in 2016 this way: "You talk about a group of coaches that went into a panic because now you're going to be able to use them in the booth and at halftime, but also they didn't really regulate can you have someone in the locker room full-time that's gathering information and coming back out? What's going to be the parameters of it?"
Some coaches have publicly raised concerns that it opens "Pandora's box" to hire additional employees to watch video in locker rooms on game days.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said using video during a game would be a "huge" benefit for coaches. "It's a much easier learning curve for a player as opposed to drawing it up on a blackboard," he said. "It would be huge to be able to explain a route concept or a blocking scheme."
Said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops: "The big thing is we want consistency. I think we will be uniformed (in the SEC) and whatever it is, we want it to be the same in every locker room. We understand the visitors' locker rooms are much smaller. But if it's two monitors, whatever it is, we all want the same technology."
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the technology will be managed consistently for both teams in a conference game. But there's also the question of competitive equity for nonconference games.
For instance, what if an SEC school travels to a Group of Five school that doesn't have the same hard-wired access as an SEC stadium? How many FBS stadiums have the capability for hard-wired, in-game video?
"The reason the NFL can do it is the NFL has a lot of money and they only have 32 teams they have to worry about so they hire an outside source to make it all equal," Bielema said. "That's not happening here with 125 schools."
The Power Five conferences will need to be on the same page. There are too many high-profile nonconference games and the College Football Playoff for there not to be the same standards at each stadium, including neutral-site venues.
"We've had for a number of years coaches can have TV monitors in the home and visitors' coaching booth to view the game and they've got to be identical, and that's worked pretty well," Redding said. "This is kind of the same principle. There's always the issue of who's going to police this? How is this going to be managed with regard if one goes down, do you shut the other one down? It also matters if you're in a nonconference game."
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he's not sure how much benefit there will be from having video available at halftime.
"It may be more of a benefit to the coaches than the players," Jones said. "But to have that avenue and to be able to show them, to be able to gather up as a coaching staff and maybe there's something that happened in the course of the first half, it is a game changer. It's different, and we have to make sure we're prepared for all of that. And then how do you use it? You still have time demands during halftime."
It's not clear whether Bielema's hypothetical idea of sending the offense to the locker room for video time will be allowed in 2017. Muschamp said he couldn't see an entire defense doing that and quipped, "We might throw a pick."
But Bielema's idea is one of many scenarios the rules committee will have to sort out because the plan remains for halftime video to come in 2017, according to Redding.
"It's an interesting perspective from the coaches," Redding said. "From the rules committee, I think there's the same sense this could be game changing, almost a cultural shift in how one thinks about coaching and teaching players."
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