Improving health outcomes for student athletes through technology

Written by Mariana Seda, Technology Services

 

This year, Technology Services teamed up with the Sports Technology team at Illinois Athletics to establish a state-of-the-art, sideline medical replay system at Memorial Stadium. 

Known in the National Football League (NFL) as the Injury Video Review System, this technology allows physicians and athletic trainers to instantly review images and videos from any play where an athlete was hurt. Trainers can use their fingers to pull up the video replay, slow it down, and zoom in to get the most complete understanding of the injury. The main purpose of this new system is to be able to better identify and diagnose concussions quickly. 

"A mandate came down this year from the Big Ten Conference that all teams had to have medical-based instant replay technology on the sidelines,” explained Dave Iffland, Assistant Athletic Director with Sports Technology. “The replay tech can take a much closer look at what happened and really dig in on different angles to check for concussions, which is an important concern for our student athletes.”

Both the home and visiting teams have a medical tent on each side of the field where they can evaluate a hurt player without the public watching. But only the home team side of the stadium had the fiber optic cables required to implement this new technology. 

"According to the Big Ten Conference, it would take minimal infrastructure to implement,” said Iffland, “but in fact, it required a lot of resources and a really short timeline to execute.”

Aiming to be ahead of the game, Illinois Athletics added this to their pre-football season goals and consulted with Technology Services on how best to move forward.

The Tech Services IT Infrastructure teams and the Sports Technology group were working on the new Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center coming online pre-season, which was a top priority as well.

Tech Services Network Operations team provided the infrastructure plans, determining where the fiber optics would be installed at the Memorial Stadium in order for the new medical replay technology to function. The Infrastructure Installation and Maintenance Team (known as CIMS) worked swiftly to build the lines in time for the first football games.

The medical replay system is yet another feature that acknowledges the University of Illinois’ commitment to the Big Ten Conference and the top-notch standards of care that all student athletes deserve. It also places the football team in league with the medical tech that the NFL uses. 

"We use a tablet similar to the Microsoft Surfaces used in the NFL,” said Iffland. “It is fairly simple technology, but it requires a lot of underground components.”

Even above ground however, there are many logistics to consider. For the instant technology to work it cannot be wireless, so the tech is all connected through an intricate wired system. There are also rules and requirements for the game that affect the placement of the shade tents protecting the equipment. Broadcasting cameras and press crews cannot be obstructed, and the large Marching Illini group needs room to march onto and off the field from strategic locations.

In the span of this year’s football season, the medical replay technology has only been used a few times. “We make sure it works every game,” explained Iffland, “but frankly, we don’t want people to need to use it. When we see someone use it from up in the box we think, ‘oh great, it works,’ but that also means someone has been hurt.”

Concussions remain a top concern for athletes, trainers and coaches. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) provides educational resources, best practices, and ongoing data and research efforts in relation to concussion awareness and management.

"Concussions are a big deal and the main reason this technology was put in,” explained Iffland, “We hope that it helps provide the athletes better care so that better decisions can be made on the field, at the crucial time."