College football athletic training staffs often make in-game medical decisions without a potentially critical piece of evidence that TV viewers at home have.
That’s starting to change — and Boise State plans to become the latest school to embrace video replay for trainers in time for the 2019 football season. The Broncos expect to test a replay system Friday during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium.
The Mountain West needs to get on board next — mandating the video system be installed at all 12 conference football stadiums.
Air Force has used replay for five years and has suggested the idea of a conference-wide system. The Falcons invited visiting teams to try out their system this season.
“A lot of times a player will lose consciousness for 3 or 4 seconds, but by the time we get there he’s already awake,” Erik Marsh, an assistant athletic trainer at Air Force who serves as the medical observer for football games, said in a phone interview. “When I review (the video) and watch, I can see he’s lost consciousness.”
If that doesn’t send chills down the spine of athletic directors and football coaches, they’re in the wrong business.
And the good news is the price tag is relatively low.
Boise State estimates it will spend about $10,000 on start-up costs for a system that will be used in sports across the athletic department, said Marc Paul, the associate athletic director for sports performance, health and wellness. Visiting teams will have access to the video, too.
That’s not insignificant money at Mountain West programs that scrap for every dollar they can find. But when you consider that Boise State’s 11 full-time football coaches will make $3.925 million in salary in 2018, it’s a purchase that must be made.
“It really is chump change for what it’s adding to our observations,” Marsh said.
The Broncos were interested in adding a video system even before tailback Alexander Mattison wobbled after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter of the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 1 — a moment seen by TV viewers across the country and discussed extensively on air by the ESPN commentators. Boise State’s trainers didn’t have access to video to study why that stumble happened.
Fortunately, Mattison was OK. He was pulled from the game and cleared a battery of tests performed by Paul before returning to the field in overtime. Mattison was checked twice the next day and monitored throughout the following week but never showed signs of a concussion, Paul said. He says he would have made the same call with the video system but perhaps could have shown the clip to the irritated Mattison to help him understand why he was pulled from the closing minutes of a tie game. (Mattison, a junior who is researching his NFL prospects, hasn’t been available for interviews since the postgame press conference.)
Boise State’s enthusiasm for the video replay system was noted by the Air Force staff in October. Boise State’s medical observer, a member of the athletic training staff who usually only works home games, traveled to the Air Force game to test the Falcons’ system.
“With Boise State’s name that they carry within the Mountain West, hopefully they’ll press the Mountain West to put these in stadiums to make it easier on the staffs as they travel,” Marsh said.
Said Paul: “We need that at every conference school.”
The system Air Force bought four years ago was designed with high school football coaches in mind. Marsh watches from the press box and cuts the video feed into individual plays that are numbered and made available to the training staffs on the sideline via iPads. When a suspected injury occurs, Marsh tells trainers by radio which play number to watch.
Under current rules, the video review has to be done outside of the bench area.
“Over the last four years, we’ve been working the bugs out and we’ve finally come to where it’s a pretty solid tool for us to use on a day-to-day basis,” Marsh said. “... When the concussion era blew up and everybody started to go to a medical observer, it’s fine to have someone who is an eye in the sky, but my eyes are no better than the folks who are trained on the field. The advantage with the video is now we can look outside of real time and review it several times while the group is out there evaluating the player.”
The video clips are sent to both sidelines via separate Wi-Fi networks for privacy (yes, coaches are that paranoid). Air Force also has a hard-wired connection in its training room.
The videos can help trainers identify other injuries besides concussions, the Air Force staff says, but it’s the concussion issue that has driven video adoption.
Erick Kozlowski, the Falcons’ head athletic trainer for football, can remember two instances in the past five years when video replay picked up a loss of consciousness that otherwise went unnoticed.
“You talk about the safety and welfare of our cadet-athletes, there’s been times we weren’t sure if a guy was unconscious on the field,” Kozlowski said in a phone interview. “We brought him off and he did a normal exam but we didn’t release him to play because the review showed quite clearly he had a change in his consciousness right after he was struck on the field.”
Alternatively, the Big Ten and SEC have placed independent medical observers in replay booths, and they can require a player be removed for evaluation. The video system should be an upgrade over that because it allows the trainers to make return-to-play decisions based on every bit of evidence available.
It’s good for the athletes — and it’s good for the schools, too, because it lessens the chance of a public relations nightmare.
The Broncos’ trainers have held key players — including quarterback Brett Rypien and former linebacker Leighton Vander Esch — out of big games because of concussion symptoms, which speaks well of their intentions. But any time a player returns to the field under questionable circumstances, the outside world is going to suggest it was a football-focused decision.
If Mattison’s wobble had been a little worse — or he had exhibited signs of concussion when he returned to the game — Boise State would have been mired in a full-blown PR fiasco.
A $10,000 purchase that protects athletes and schools?
Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for your local athletic department.