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Reopening the Discussion of Football and Virtual Reality

Should USC expand their use of advanced technology to improve on-field performance?

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In December 2015, representatives from STRIVR showed up to a USC football practice, introducing the integration of virtual reality with sports.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the representatives from the Palo Alto based company used 3D cameras to shoot footage of Cody Kessler and others running through drills later to be played back using virtual reality headsets. This technology allows for players to run virtual reality reps without ever having to step on the field. Even though USC has experimented with the future of sports, virtual reality has not yet been adopted by the football program. USC Football should fully adopt virtual reality to increase athletic performance in practice, leading to better results in game time.

STRIVR has shown improved performance for players who have utilized the program. The technology was developed by Derek Belch, a former kicker and assistant coach for Stanford and Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford professor and a leading authority in virtual reality. Belch introduced the technology to Stanford's head coach David Shaw in 2014, who embraced the use of it in practice. It was a way to bring the playbook to life, giving players and coaches something more helpful than traditional game film. Players use the technology to practice complex situations they would only experience on game day.

To test the effectiveness of the technology on game performance, Kevin Hogan used it the last three games of the 2014 football season against Cal, UCLA and Maryland. Kevin Hogan went from completing 64 percent of his passes up to 76 percent using the headset 20 minutes before games. The Cardinal also increased the average points scored in a game, from 24 to 38 in those final three games.

Since the technology was first introduced to the Stanford football team, most quantitative metrics come from their observance in change of performance in games once the technology was utilized. A number of NFL teams, including the 49ers and the Cowboys, and a handful of NCAA teams have signed contracts to use the technology, showing the gradual infiltration of STRIVR into college and professional football.

For USC coaches, the technology would be beneficial in allowing backup players to have repetitions without playing time. This means our second and third string quarterbacks will have real game experience, which proves useful if our starting quarterback is unable to perform. With the decrease in allowed contact hours by the NCAA, the technology also gives a way for players to have their own individualized practice on their time. Since players' health is also a growing concern, running through live plays without having to be on the field leads to less concussion and less body contact. This is beneficial once season starts, lessening the risk of injury because players become more adept in how to handle game situations.

For USC players, the adoption of the technology would help players to refine their already insane football skills. Adoree Jackson, one of the most athletically gifted football players to grace USC in recent years, has said his main focus is to make plays. Last year, USC used Catapult, which gave a better measure to manage Jackson and other players' workload. Adopting STRIVR would help to make sure athletes like Adoree do not tire as the season goes on, giving him a chance to have an optimal performance every game. Even though the technology has mostly been utilized by quarterbacks, every position has a chance to benefit from running live reps, whether they happen to be on the field or not.

Those who are not updated with the evolution of virtual reality will be opposed, citing the poor quality of the film presented through the headsets. The film is not CGI generated, but stitched together from GoPro recordings. This eliminates the video game feel and makes a better representation of what players will see on the field.

Don't get me wrong, virtual reality will never remove the need for physical practice, only help to supplement what players learn on the field. College athletes have multiple demands on their time, leaving football programs to find ways to optimally use practice. USC has undergone multiple changes in the past few months, with the addition of new players, coaching staff and athletic director. We have the talent to be great, but USC must find ways to effectively develop players. STRIVR can be added to that list of changes, revolutionizing the way our players approach games and helping to catapult us into a future College Football Playoff.

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