Twitter, Facebook, digital streaming, iPads and digital video systems are de rigueur for any conference or program worth its salt, and the Big 12 is certainly not an outlier in that regard. However, league commissioner Bob Bowlsby isn't sitting still in the fast changing world of technology.
During his keynote speech at Big 12 media days on Monday, Bowlsby announced several initiatives and projects to help keep the league at the forefront of that wave, citing innovation as one of the key areas the league looked at during the offseason.
The first announcement was the intention to have live and taped highlights available in stadiums during all Big 12 football games this year. While the technology of highlights on a big board isn't exactly new, in-game highlights of the day's action in other Big 12 venues is a nice step in tying league teams more tightly together. The clips, which will be shown during TV timeouts, will help keep interest in other league teams going, and provide a more visual tie-in than just the reading of scores over a PA system.
Bowlsby also pointed out that the highlights are one of a number of efforts aimed at getting fans "out of their homes and into the games". He noted that attendance at Big 12 venues has been good, but that the challenge of getting fans out from in front of their HD TVs and readily available refreshments in the kitchen is one that the Big 12 is taking seriously. Providing those highlights is one step toward improving the stadium experience.
"I think nationwide we're seeing student numbers declining. We're seeing season ticket numbers declining. College football has experienced declines in overall attendance over the last four or five years, and I think bringing highlights in will take into account and help one of the things that really is getting to be a challenge for us. We put together all of these multimedia deals, but with that comes the interminable 2:30 and 2:45 television time-out, and during those time-outs in Big 12 stadiums this year, we will have highlights from other games. They will be mixed in with other things that are being done on campus.
But I really think it's going to be a terrific thing for our fans, and I think it will be one item that will keep people from staying home in front of their televisions or watching on a PDA or in one way or another saving time and money and staying home. That is the trend. We see people that have a 60- inch television and they can have their mobile device with full wi-fi on their lap, no lines at the restroom, no charge for concessions, they can have a cold beer when they want to, and they don't have to spend six to eight hours traveling to and from the stadium. So it's something that we're very excited about, and we think that it will greatly enhance the in-stadium environment."
Another technology that will be in play this year is the use of radio frequency (RF) chips in player's equipment. The RF tags will allow a player's movement and velocity to be tracked all over the field. While a specific use for a fan experience hasn't been set yet, Bowlsby thinks it will open up new vistas.
"We will be using Sportsvision to track the players on their paths, and we are not quite sure what we will do with it yet," Bowlsby said.
Possible applications would include overlays for a player to accurately show his route on a run or a pass route, or perhaps tracking just how much ground a player covers in a game.
Bowlsby also announced tighter integration with Head Up Football, a program designed to promote proper tackling techniques to help prevent or lessen the chance of concussions. Tracking and telemetry devices could also be employed in this area to gather more data to help improve concussion and other injury prevention. Bowlsby also said the Big 12 has developed a comprehensive concussion prevention plan.
"We also have undertaken a very significant concussion research and prevention program that we think is altogether appropriate. We have developed a conference position statement that was developed by Ed Stewart and Murphy Grant, who is a sports medicine professional at the University of Kansas. It has been unanimously adopted by our administrators and by our football coaches. It is in conjunction with the position statement and the development of our conference protocols.
"We are working on a partnership with USA Football, which is an NFL undertaking that is intended to teach young people to play the game properly and to play it safely. Player safety is a very important element of what we're doing. The commissioners collectively actually took the initiative and sent directive to the rules committee that we wanted progress made on both concussive head injuries and the cumulative effect of repetitive blows to the head."
Finally, in conjunction with the additional official that will be used in all Big 12 conference games this year, a point of view camera attached to one of the official's hats was used during spring practices this year, and could make an appearance at some point in the future.
While that video won't be used to make or review calls, it can be used as a teaching tool for other officials, and to show what the official in question is looking at during a certain point in time. In the future, though, would it be a surprise to see every official with a personal camera, and to have that video available to replay officials? That could well be the next be step in technology for a league that is priding itself on riding the wave of the digital era.