College football is using science! This time they are going with electronic tracking devices in the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, as Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reported Tuesday. From Solomon's report, SEC football officiating coordinator Steve Shaw:
"I think it really is more for tracking how fast a player is moving and the direction of his movements so you have an electronic signature of all of that," Shaw said. "Then what you do with that, we have to figure that out. You could track speed before a collision and that sort of thing. To be honest, I'm not sure what all of the applications are. But it has potential benefit in player safety, so I think it's worth taking an initial step to see what the technology does."
These leagues are following in the footsteps of the daddy, the NFL. The league was working with sensors as a way to deliver more information to fans, media and the like.
Yup, despite Shaw's tepid (at best) reference to safety, the real goal here has less to do with players and their safety and more to do with finding a new means of commodification within the sport. Whether that is viewer experience or delivering statistics, the point is that this is only tangentially related to the players.
Certainly, they could use the sensors for strength and conditioning work. A way to tweak workouts and monitor player production in an effort to squeeze the maximum amount of speed out of the guys on the field.
Safety is not at the heart of this matter, and officials casually mentioning it shouldn't fool anyone concerned with player safety into believing that it is. Monitoring speed at the time of a collision is nice, but it isn't something that helps where concussions or types of injuries are concerned, beyond "he was going really fast."
If safety was at the core, this conversation would be about how they were going to use impact monitors—which already exist—across the board in their leagues. If safety was at the core, the conferences (and the NCAA itself) would be looking at mandatory sit-out periods, third-party doctors evaluating players and standardized hit counts to limit exposure in practice and games.
This is a money play wrapped up in some rhetoric that's only mildly even related to safety improvements. Safety should matter, yet the folks in charge keep proving that it does not. Sure, the window dressing of the ejections and helmet pop-off rule calm the casual fan, but the truth is they do little to improve the safety of the game.
Player tracking might well be cool for fans, but in the grand scheme of things, it is another failure to address the true safety issue. Although, at this point, these measures are not so much failures as blatant sidestepping of the true issue at hand.