How Technology Will Change the Look of College Football as Early as 2017

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJune 10, 2016

John Wirtz, Chief Product Officer of hudl, speaks in the company's conference room in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Hudl is a software company that has developed a way to immediately get game film to coaches and break down and separate different plays by type. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nati Harnik/Associated Press

DESTIN, Fla. — For the most part, college football won't look much different in 2016 than it did in 2015. 

Sure, you'll have centralized replay in some conferences, including the SEC and ACC, and targeting calls that were missed live can be called after review in the SEC.

But that's about it, at least from a rules perspective. 

In 2017, though, big change could be coming.

Technological advances within stadiums helped the NCAA approve video being used inside locker rooms and in coaches' boxes as a teaching tool starting in 2017. That rule was initially passed for 2016, but it was tabled in order to develop guidelines that ensure it's applied consistently throughout all levels of college football, as well as between home and road teams.

"There's interest and concern about how that's deployed," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said at spring meetings earlier this month. "A consistent opportunity, whether you're the home or visiting team, to have that technology—televisions and monitors—in coaches' booths or in locker rooms. That's the interest. What's the technology and how can it be consistent between both teams."

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey
SEC commissioner Greg SankeyAndy Lyons/Getty Images

As it stands, starting in 2017, teams will be allowed to go into the locker rooms at halftime and show players film of mistakes they've made, opponents' tendencies and plans for the second half. Similar technology—including the use of tablets—can be used by coaches in the press box. 

"What everybody thinks was a subtle thing, I think is going to be one of the greatest game-changers in college football history," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "Right now, we don't use any electronic devices. The crazy part of this is that, I sat on the rules committee five years ago and listened to the national high school director talk about their use of computers, and we're still using Etch-a-Sketch."

Bielema joked that a player could conceivably head to the locker rooms and "use the facilities" during a break in the action or while the other unit is on the field and get a quick look at a mistake he made. That's one loophole the sport is looking to avoid, even though it's more of a theoretical problem than an actual one.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp was asked if he would send his entire defense into the locker room to look at film between series—a notion that garnered a sarcastic response.

"Nah, we might throw a pick, so we gotta have the defense ready to go," he said.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp while at Florida in 2014
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp while at Florida in 2014Butch Dill/Associated Press

Though the technology is limited to locker rooms and coaches' boxes for the time being, change could be coming on the sidelines.

The NFL has used still images for decades, and the league recently brought tablets into the fold to display still images on the bench. While no specifics regarding sideline use of technology have been passed in the college game yet, coaches are hopeful that changes prior to the start of the 2017 season.

"A lot of focus about in-helmet communication, potentially for the 2017 season," Sankey said following the coaches' meeting in Destin. "Then, if we're going to have technology for coaching purposes, what might that be? If we're going to have access to still shots on the sideline, which was mentioned."

For coaches who have spent time in the NFL, similar teaching tools becoming available on the college sideline would be long overdue.

"Still shots, to me—that's all we had [in the NFL]—was very beneficial," Muschamp said. "Just from splits and sets offensively, and being able to quickly go through things and visualize for the players."

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp
South Carolina head coach Will MuschampSean Rayford/Associated Press

As of now, Muschamp won't get his wish, and college football will be stuck in the technological dark ages. 

As for in-helmet communication, the SEC coaches voted unanimously to allow radio devices in the helmets of one offensive player (the quarterback) and defensive player (typically a middle linebacker), which would mirror the NFL's rules.

"I'm for anything technology-wise," said former South Carolina quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator G.A. Mangus. "Being someone that likes to go quickly, I wouldn't have to worry about [a] 15-second cutoff because the ball will be snapped most of the time before then. It gives another mode to calling plays, which is great when looking to change tempos. Young quarterbacks would benefit. Veteran quarterbacks who can change plays, maybe not as much. But crowd noise can still affect [the] ability to hear."

The coaches don't make the final decision, and figuring out the logistics and costs for in-helmet communication is a bit different in a sport like college football that has 128 teams with vastly different revenue streams than it is in the 32-team NFL. 

But steps like video in the booth and locker room are already in the works, and there could be more to come if coaches get their wishes. 

"Technology is there, and it will be a part of the game," Sankey said.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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