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With bowl trial scrapped, wireless coach-player talk on hold

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) The move toward allowing wireless communication between coaches and players on the field in college football is on hold after a plan to experiment with the technology in a few of this year's bowl games was scrapped.

The NCAA football rules committee last February gave the go-ahead for the first steps to be taken for putting wireless devices in the helmets of the quarterback and one defensive player to allow coaches to give directions or play calls, same as in the NFL. The idea was tabled in November after a technology subcommittee charged with lying groundwork for the system ran into opposition from some coaches and had difficulty working out details.

''We were in the realm of the unknown with the bowls, not knowing what teams would be participating in what games and not knowing whether the teams or coaches in those games would want to do it,'' said Big 12 senior associate commissioner for football Ed Stewart, a member of the rules committee and technology subcommittee. ''So it kind of fizzled out.''

The NFL began using the technology in 1994, allowing a coach on the sideline to communicate with the quarterback on the field. One defensive player, usually a linebacker, was allowed to have a device in his helmet as well beginning in 2008. Communication is allowed only between plays and cut off when the play clock reaches 15 seconds.

The original plan was for the NFL-style system to be used on a trial basis for what was hoped to be five or six bowls - College Football Playoff games and other New Year's games excluded. But not everyone agreed it was the right time to go away from the hand signals, poster boards with cartoon characters, photos and silly symbols and other methods used on sidelines to relay play calls.

''The bowl games are important to the coaches and players, so that was part of the conversation - was that the place to experiment with it or not?'' Stewart said.

Some coaches worried they wouldn't have enough time to prepare their teams to use the technology, and some athletic administrators raised concerns about the expense, NCAA coordinator of officials Rogers Redding said. The exact cost of the trial has not been made public.

Lincoln-based Gubser & Schnakenberg, LLC, the provider of the technology to the NFL, was set to be contracted to set up the systems at bowl sites.

Stewart said his subcommittee also looked into having wireless communication used in bowls played at NFL stadiums where systems already are in place, but again ran into uncertainty about whether the teams participating in those games would want to use the technology.

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Stewart said he's sure the football rules committee will discuss the technology again when it reconvenes in February.

''You've got some coaches who really like the idea, some aren't real crazy about it and some are in the middle,'' Stewart said.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he's disappointed he won't be able to use the technology in the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA on Saturday. Nebraska and UCLA both had wireless coach-to-player communication in spring practices, and their game will be played in an NFL venue, Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

''It would have been fun to dive in at some point,'' Riley said. ''It appeared like it would be a good time to do it - maybe not in the playoff games because you want to keep some continuity there. But some of these bowl games, it would have been interesting to do.''

Riley is a pioneer in wireless communication in football. When he coached the San Antonio franchise in the World League of American Football in the early 1990s, coaches were allowed to carry walkie talkies on the sideline and use them to speak to the quarterback, who had an earpiece in his helmet. He also used the technology when he was San Diego Chargers coach from 1999-2001.

Riley said having play-calls radioed to the quarterback or linebacker reduces the chances of something getting lost in the translation when complicated play calls are made.

''Just watch the sidelines of a college game, and you'll see how much (inefficiency) it would eliminate,'' he said. ''People use towels, they use signs, multiple signalers where one is live and one is dummy. There is every gimmick. All that drama would be eliminated.''


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