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Collegiate Sports Organizations Tiptoe Into Wiring Athletes for Sound

05/06/2024

Collegiate Sports Organizations Tiptoe Into Wiring Athletes for Sound Manufacturers say affordable, accessible technology can expand deployment By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Wednesday, June 5, 2024 - 10:24 am

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When it comes to sound, one of the most glaring differences between pro and collegiate sports is that schools and the NCAA have been adamantly against putting microphones on their athletes, even as major leagues seemingly put them everywhere.

That may change in the future. The NCAA has recently green-lighted a few significant rules changes, including allowing Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams to wire one player on the field with a helmet microphone to communicate with coaches. Penn State has already announced that its quarterbacks and middle linebackers will use the mics.

The use of technology has been on the committee's agenda for several years, and the time is right to introduce it in NCAA football, says Big Ten VP, Football Administration, A.J. Edds, who co-chairs the conference's Football Rules committee, in an NCAA statement.

It likely won't be long before college teams' intercoms are operating at near-pro levels. But the transition won't be without speed bumps.

Often, in college sports, observes Sara Seidel, regional marketing manager, Americas, Riedel, you will see the students running the operations. These students cycle through [during their time at the school], so the equipment has to be intuitive and easy to use, as they may be very new to the idea of comms and the whole production process for sports. Depending on the college, funds for initial purchase and maintenance may not be as high [as for pro teams], and, with inexperienced users, more drops and mishandling may occur, so [the comms systems] have to be able to take a lot of abuse and keep working.

An RF receiver (the green dot shown on a Green Bay Packers helmet) will soon be allowed on some NCAA helmets.

However, she says, robust comms at the college level are as necessary as they are for the pros: College games have a lot of fan engagement during the games, [including] people coming down onto the court or field for special contests, as well as marching bands and cheerleaders. Making sure all of this happens seamlessly requires communication.

Seidel notes out that comms are increasingly integral to gathering and capturing audio content on the field for use beyond game sound effects. She notes that the Bolero wireless beltpacks used by the Georgia Tech Bulldogs are able to connect to the team's Bluetooth headsets for sideline interviews.

We do see that, as the pro-sports leagues move to certain technologies and workflows regarding communications, within a few years, Division 1 Conferences start to embrace similar technologies, says Rick Seegull, SVP, technology and business development, Americas, Riedel. As the [Tier 1 schools] do major upgrades, they tend to want a flagship system and mimic systems at the pro-level stadiums. Division 1 is more similar to a major-league level, and [schools] usually have a more traditional broadcast team, but it does still come down to budget.

Others have noticed the same dynamic. Tom Buffolano, head of business development, college sports, The Switch/TATA Communications, says, In terms of audio as part of an in-venue presentation, schools have taken a page from pro sports, with boisterous pregame introductions, flashy video, and music that gets the crowd excited and engaged in a game.

Still a Way To Go NCAA rules continue to restrict the use of wireless audio on athletes and officials. The 2023-24 NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Book says, Players and team members are not permitted to wear a microphone or any other equipment which enables sound transmission from a player to an off-court receiver (Rule 1/Court and Equipment, Section 26, Article 9). Football is less dogmatic: The committee had a thorough discussion of wearable technologies. The committee invites non FBS conferences that are interested in wearable technologies to submit an experimental proposal to the committee.

Says Paul Johnson, CEO, Q5X, which makes microphone systems for players and officials, We have not yet seen an increase of player audio at the college level that would parallel the increases in professional sports. There continues to be interest expressed in Q5X's PlayerMics and CoachMics by some colleges, but most of the usage is restricted to practices since the NCAA continues to have very strict guidelines restricting the use of technology, including microphones on players, during games.

However, he notes, some schools are using these wireless systems during practices to create sizzle reels and packages for websites and social media. Some coaches are using PlayerMics on athletes during warmups and practices to capture audio to be reviewed with the players for coaching purposes.

More Affordable, Less Complicated Tech Integrating more comms for sports at the college level seems inevitable for numerous applications beyond wiring athletes for sound, and doing so is already becoming less costly and easier to implement.

From coordinating the actual team/coaching staff, coach-to-player communications, official communications, and instant replay to broadcasters' and stadium facilities' needs as well as actual school production needs, virtually any available frequency is at a premium, explains Gary Rosen, VP, global sales, Pliant Technologies. The number of wireless comms has risen dramatically in the last five years. They [will have to] be operated by volunteers from the schools, so having affordable, simple-to-deploy systems for the teams is critical.

The Telos Infinity communication system in the Notre Dame Studios Martin Media Center

Telos Alliance VP, Business Developmen
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2024/06/05/collegiate-sports-organizations...
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