Feb 12 2015

The Technology Behind Today’s College Athlete

There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to all of the technology now supporting student athletes.

There's a growing emphasis on technology in the athletic departments of many college institutions. Many trends are contributing to the increasing reliance on technology-backed practices and data gathering.

HD cameras today are more affordable, and access to mobile devices and tablets is nearly ubiquitous. All of that means it's now easier for coaches and athletes to review video footage from practices and games.

Coaches and teams at the University of Pittsburgh use video to analyze athletes' performance and correct mistakes. Football, basketball, gymnastics and other team coaches there are incorporating wearable video cameras and drones to watch player action from new and unique perspectives.

Products such as Cisco Systems' Connected Stadium, GoPro cameras and tablets also are leveraged to improve fan experience on game days.

Beyond such direct tech tie-ins, business intelligence and data analytics tools provide new insights into athletes' performance and overall health (think Fitbit and other wearable monitors). Today's tech-enabled athletes, it seems, aren't required to think about their performance only during practice — improvement now is an all-day, everyday affair.

A recent NCAA Athletic Director Round Table shared several directors' views on best practices, trends and the use of technology in college athletics. At Boston College, "technology provides multiple avenues for students, fans and alumni to follow our programs, provide feedback, interact with key stakeholders and share information in meaningful ways," says Brad Bates, BC's director of athletics.

Beyond the Field

Eric Sexton, the director of athletics at Wichita State University, says teams there use a software solution to track coaches' recruiting calls and other text contacts to assist in better monitoring.

How technology will continue to evolve in athletics remains to be seen.

"The challenge is to use it to our advantage and not get bogged down in minutiae, which can easily happen," says Ron Wellman, director of athletics at Wake Forest University.

Indeed, as technology continues to be embedded in every facet of work, study and now play, colleges and universities should ensure they have appropriate resources to back it all up and get the most out of their tech spend. Appropriate network bandwidth and capacity are crucial for video-intensive applications on campus or on the field. Adequate storage and plans for disaster recovery or continuity of operations are critical for those institutions that rely heavily on Big Data and data-based performance monitoring. And business intelligence systems and tools allow coaches and players to make better-informed decisions based on all of the newly available data.

Many athletic departments are tapping cloud-based solutions and resources to cover all or part of those needs.

Back to Class

Of course, all of the technology available to help improve athletes' performance means nothing if those athletes aren't eligible to play. Maintaining connections to classmates and professors back on campus while on the road for away games is another critical component for student athlete success.

Not only in the classroom but also on the road, student athletes can communicate or conference with instructors and other students, complete and share documents and assignment materials, and keep up with classwork and lectures.

It will be interesting to see whether all of the data highlighting athletic performance will also show improvements in student athletes' academic performance as more of these tools are utilized.