Technology plays a role in every facet of our lives, and the same is true for college football. Innovation in vastly different industries — like electronics or computing — inevitably spilled over into the realm of athletics as sports organizations look to exploit an edge just like any profit-seeking firm. Technology even serves as a force multiplier in sports, and Kentucky football is like every other program attempting to harness innovation to win more games.
Historically, one of the better examples of the use of technology in football was analyzing game film. Fifteen years ago, football teams were keeping libraries of VHS tapes. Before that was literal game film. Today, improvement in audiovisual devices and advances in data storage are two realms that have changed game preparation. Today’s head coaches, who were assistants twenty or more years ago, probably had it much harder in some ways than their assistants do today. Imagine how much these ancillary products and services have changed for a truly old school coach like Bill Snyder who served as a USC graduate assistant back in the mid-1960’s. A lot, I’d say.
We’ve talked previously about the role of technology with UK’s strength and conditioning program. The use of biometrics, drones, Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, and other technologies have been explored. This post will focus on a few ways technology specifically impacts game preparation, coaching, and the mandate for play-makers.
The Film Room
Today’s film is digital and up in The Cloud. Data is more accessible from various devices while data storage is simultaneously approaching infinity. A result is that coaching secrets are largely going the way of the dinosaurs. UK coaches, just like other SEC staffs, can gain access to every play their opponent has run for at least the last few seasons; thereby making it nearly impossible for teams to hide their tendencies, or an individual player’s strengths and weaknesses. Data collection is definitely no longer a problem, and the ease with which bulk data can be categorized and recalled from multiple locations/devices continues to become simpler.
An oversimplified example of how that might work practically for UK: offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson decided in fall camp that he likes UK in a standard Trips formation. He likes that personnel grouping for whatever reason, and so he’s decided this formation will be used heavily against an upcoming opponent. He can cue up how the opposing defensive coordinator has defended Trips every time this season, and even in previous seasons whether or not the DC coached for his current team last year or not. In short, Dawson can identify what coverage the opponent tends to employ against Trips, how often they blitz against that formation, and personnel weaknesses with five UK skill positions on the field just to name a few. That data, in bulk and easily accessible, will go on to feed his game plan. Game-planning may still take hours, but it’s almost certainly more efficient than it’s ever been, theoretically-speaking.
As technology balances the playing field makes, it’s the play-makers that become increasingly important and give teams an edge. If both teams know 80-90% what their opponent wants to do, it’s the play-makers winning their individual battles that makes the difference. This can be Ohio State’s offensive linemen opening huge holes against Oregon’s defense in the National Championship Game or it can be Boom Williams scoring against UofL. Mark Stoops mantra of “recruit and develop” should be well-heeded. Some aspects of football will never change, and beating the man in front of you will always be important. Perhaps more than ever.
Assistant coaches should be great recruiters, teachers, and inspire their guys to play hard for them. Today’s technology enables most aspects of recruiting what with HUDL, Skype, social media, and the like. Inspiring still comes down to creating a bond, and remains out of reach of technology. Nonetheless, technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the quality of teaching.
Perhaps UK fans will recall Andre Woodson talking about the portable DVD player the staff gave him heading into the summer of 2005. He talked about watching film on it, and how it contributed to improving his knowledge of the game because he took his work home with him (vast efforts to find a link to this story failed). Today, UK’s players have iPads and all teams now have most, if not all, of their playbooks digitized. Meanwhile, portable DVD players can be found in the bargain bin of your used electronics store or the city dump.
The NCAA only allows 20 hours of practice time per week, and that time is typically spent ironing out the previous game’s mistakes, fundamentals work, and game prep. The temptation to outsource a portion of opponent preparation to player’s individual study on their iPad is probably a real one. This might prove effective for some college males, but it just as likely doesn’t work for many others even if some positions (i.e. quarterback) need it more than others.
Technology could result in coaches having visualization software that gets a player to firmly and forever understand a specific concept. That’s employing technology to teach. On the flip-side, the existence of an iPad may incentivize less player-to-coach teaching given NCAA mandates. Also, increasing accessibility to film can just as easily create longer days for the “student-athletes” as much as it does for their coaches.
Not A Time For Luddites
The NCAA Football Rules Committee has started to explore the ways technology can be further implemented into the game. In ways, the NFL has already incorporated technological advancements. The smart college programs have always harnessed technology to give themselves a competitive edge, and the smart athletic departments have always figured out how technology can benefit the fan experience. In the future, smart programs will no doubt continue to do the same. Hopefully UK is one those programs at the forefront.