Experts agree ending college football sign stealing is just a click away, so what's taking so long? – CBS Sports

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Rob Neumann wonders what could have been. The offensive coordinator at Rochester Community and Technical College had just helped lead the Yellowjackets to the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association championship game. Neumann and the staff were ready to take a futuristic next step.
The program based in Rochester, Minnesota, had signed up to use GoRout technology. The fledgling company promised a new wrinkle in transferring plays calls from the sideline. Forget signs, forget helmet communications. Heck, forget those play calls in the conventional sense. The Yellowjackets were going to wear wrist bands that would electronically transmit the next play from the sidelines.
For a team that had ridden the spread up-tempo wave to an 11-1 season, this was going to be a game changer even if the technology was only allowable in practice.
That was seven years ago, and Neumann still won’t let go.
“I think about it more than any rationale human being probably should,” he told CBS Sports.
The Yellowjackets staff was let go following the 2015 season after going 31-4 over the three years prior. That move is less of a mystery than why such technology hasn’t progressed to being used in-game today. Especially amid the Michigan sign-stealing scandal that is sweeping the sport.
The short answers are costs, liability and perfecting a technology that only now it is realizing its potential. Electronic communications — either in-helmet speakers or so-called “wearables” like GoRout — have been discussed by the NCAA Football Rules Committee for years. Recent events have demanded they take a more serious look at electronic options to aid play calling.
“Oh yeah, put me on the record on this,” said Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts, a member of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee. “I am a strong proponent of it. Our commissioner is a strong component of it. We’ve had lots of talks with our coaches in the Big Ten.”
A lot of it before Connor Stalions became the biggest spy since James Bond. The NCAA Football Rules Committee and secretary rules-editor Steve Shaw have already let it be known electronic communications will be a “top of mind” issue in 2024.
In 2021, Southern and Grambling experimented with using helmet communications in their rivalry game, the Bayou Classic. In the latest experiment, FBS teams will be allowed to use electronic communications in during bowl season beginning next month. Competing schools would have to agree on its use. There is no limit to the number of players who could wear the technology.
“This is something that is not a brand-new topic,” Shaw said. “The rules committee kind of indicated that technology would be a huge component of next year’s meeting.”
“It has taken a process that all the conferences and administrators been aware of and working on,” he added. “… Current events have [created] at least a lot of interest and questions around it. It’s more of a story [now] than it was.”
What none of them foresaw was the issue becoming part of a trending topic. The Michigan situation exposed what has been a staple of the game for decades. Sign-stealing might be the sport’s oldest form of gamesmanship. With the advent of no-huddle offenses, plays were signaled in with hand gestures and signs.
NCAA rules allow for the stealing of those signs on game days. Also fair game is breaking down tendencies from game film. What’s not allowed what Stalions’ allegedly schemed — advance scouting of opponents. Videotaping those signs while advance scouting is also an NCAA violation.
Electronic communications would basically eliminate the potential for such espionage. If there’s no more signs, well, there’s no more signs to steal.
“I would 100% think it does [get rid of sign stealing],” Neumann said. “I think this whole sign-stealing thing is hilarious. Everyone does it. Not everyone is as blatant as Michigan.”
The NJCAA follows the NCAA’s lead in not allowing electronic communications. The NCAA Oversight Committee typically develops rules for discussion by the rules committee. In this case, the rules committee has been out front.
FBS coaches in general support wearable technology as opposed to helmet communications, according Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association.
When spread, up-tempo offenses began to develop 20 years ago, the huddle started to go away — unlike in the NFL. Communicating plays onto the field became an art form. Those poster board signs showing everything from cartoon characters to đź’© were all the rage.
The biggest issue in transitioning to electronics at the moment seems to be logistics. The NFL only allows one player on each side of the ball to have in-helmet comms. GoRout would allow each player in the game to use that wristband.
The 32 NFL stadiums all are wired with the same bandwidth, so sideline-to-helmet communications is seamless. There are college stadiums that aren’t even properly wired. Ever go to a game and have your iPhone freeze up because there isn’t enough bandwidth?
“Sign stealing accusations are one component,” Alberts said. “Forget that ever happened. It’s the modernization of the game. It’s the flow of the game. Quite frankly, you look at some of these students we’re recruiting. They’re using technology in high school and then get to Division I, big-time football, and we’re holding up these crazy signs.”
If and when the technology is approved for college football, it will arrive well broken in. Major League Baseball adopted PitchCom technology for communication with pitchers and catchers in 2022. The National Federation of State High School Associations is allowing baseball coaches to electronically communicate with catchers beginning in 2024. In 2021, the NCAA passed a similar rule in baseball.
That sets the background for GoRout CEO Mike Rolih, a former Division I pitcher at Dayton who went on to get a master’s degree in technology at Eastern Illinois.
“I just kind of fell in love with the idea of helping be a part of the intersection between sports and technology,” he said. “What has always been done a certain way can be affected by a different way of thinking.”
Rolih says he has 55 FBS clients, all using some form the wearable technology in practice. Two of his oldest customers are Tom Allen at Indiana and Kalen DeBoer at Washington.
“At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about — the integrity of the game and making sure the viewing experiences and on-field activities are as precise and clean and efficient as possible,” Rolih said.
Think of GoRout technology as an elaborate Apple Watch. It can be worn on the wrist or around the waist. Players can glance down and see a drawing of a play with accompanying script or just the name of the play.
“Think of it like a phone display showing you the diagram of a play, exactly what you’re supposed to do, where you’re supposed to be,” said Neumann, who is now as assistant high school coach in the Twin Cities area. “… Trying to get young kids to run a play off a sign board is borderline stroke inducing.”
GoRout has become a leader in a growing field. Rolih has three patents and eight more pending on his technology, which has been continually refined since it debuted with Rochester ordering a batch of wearables eight years ago.
“They were my first paying customer, and I thought, ‘This must be a business,'” Rolih said.   
Helmet communications have drawbacks, at least at the college level. Helmet manufacturers have let it be known that any modification to that piece of equipment may violate National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) safety standards. NOCSAE is considered the industry standard for helmet safety.
Lawsuits regarding head trauma have caused several helmet manufacturers to go out of business. That has left Riddell and Schutt as the last major players in the space. 
Liability has not been determined for teams during the bowl season. Southern and Grambling agreed to assume those risks in 2021.
“I think [electronic communications] will definitely come up,” said Arkansas atheltic director Hunter Yurachek, another member of the oversight committee. “It’s one of those things where some can afford it and some can’t. If you just pass it and make it permissive, [then] if you want to use it, use it. … I think you’ll find everyone will find the money to do it.”
Rolih would not reveal his price structure, but if it’s a case or affordability, college football players everywhere already use those “wearables” on game day. Catapult is a vest-like bio-monitoring device long worn by football players underneath their uniforms.
With so much new money in the system in the form of TV rights revenue, cost is less of an issue than those logistics. Some have suggested making electronic communications optional. If certain teams can’t afford them, they are not used in that specific game.
But in the richer Power Four, they may be another delineator between the haves and have nots.
“The NFL owns the day of the week,” Rolih said. “The big difference between having 32 teams certifying 40-60 helmets [in the entire league] as part of their collective bargaining agreement than there is across 133 FBS institutions, it’s a bigger problem at scale.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said he has discussed the Michigan situation with coaches and administrators within his conference. ADs were presented an overview during a video conference last week.
“The [football] rules committee has got to adapt, to allow more use of technology,” Sankey said. “I feel quite certain the recent in-depth reporting and summaries of the activities involving certain programs would encourage the rules committee.”
The subject has become so ubiquitous that Sankey couldn’t afford a wry smile.
“We visited with poster board printers to see what the economic downfall would be,” he said.
Maybe it’s time to remove them altogether.
“You know they did it,” Neumann said of the Michigan scandal. “The way they hid the guy and now Stalions is ‘resigned.’ You know they’re guilty. What’s the NCAA going to do? That’s the million-dollar question.”
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