On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
Why Todd Gurley Should Have Said 'No' To NCAA Reinstatement
Four weeks ago, University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley was suspended, first by the University of Georgia and then by the NCAA, for accepting money to sign autographs on sports memorabilia. This week, the NCAA reinstated Gurley — just in time for fifteenth ranked University of Georgia (7-2) to take on SEC conference rival Auburn University (7-2).
But while the NCAA is now ready to have Todd Gurley back on the football field, is it really in Gurley’s best interest to return?
Todd Gurley has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by returning to college football. If Gurley does not return, he will finish his college career having amassed more than 3,000 yards and 41 touchdownsover the course of two plus seasons. According to CBS's CBS -0.66% Dane Brugler, those statistics are good enough to earn Gurley a late first-round NFL draft selection. Such a draft slot would translate into an estimated $8 million rookie-contract salary for Gurley.
Furthermore, if Gurley does not return, he is no longer bridled by the NCAA’s restrictive rules on athlete compensation. He can sign with an agent, as well sign autographs for money. Heck, he could even likely sign a sponsorship agreement with a company such as Nike orAdidas and immediately secure his family’s future.
By contrast, if Gurley does return, he not only delays these opportunities, but risks losing them forever. Indeed, a single injury over the next several weeks could derail an NFL career, hurt his draft status, or destroy his marketability on even the endorsement market.
Sadly, we have seen a single college injury destroy a player’s pro prospects before. For example, a single hit taken by Washington State quarterbackConnor Halliday on November 1 against University of Southern California led to a severe break in the quarterback’s leg. As Halliday recently tweeted, the NFL dream that he has worked for achieve his entire life is now in question.
Should Gurley really take the same risk?
Of course, those within college sports are trying to convince Gurley that there is honor and dignity in returning. But this purported honor is more based on theleaders of college sports’s own self-interest.
If Gurley comes back and plays like a star, he could lead the University of Georgia to a Bowl Game. The result could mean more money for the University of Georgia as a university, and perhaps the opportunity for University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt to renegotiate his already extravagant $3.2 million in salary.
Also, if Gurley comes back and plays like a star, it also gives the media a fun story line about a suspended player’s return and “rehabilitation”
But if Gurley comes back, what does he really gain? His suspension has seemingly deprived him of any hope at the Heisman Trophy, and his return delays his ability to earn a livelihood. Plus, if Gurley gets hurt now, he could see a lifetime of hard work gone overnight and the prospect to earning a life-changing income immediately quashed.
I know Todd Gurley wants to help his team win the SEC conference and show the world one last time what a great college football player he has become.
But in the big picture, it is just not worth it.
The NCAA protected its own financial interests by suspending Todd Gurley for four games simply for signing sports memorabilia for money. Perhaps Todd Gurley should now protect his own interests over thecollege football cartel and suspend the remainder of his college football career.
It is simply not worth Todd Gurley risking his future earning potential to protect the interests of the very same college and athletic association that four weeks ago turned their back on him.
Rewind: Gurley is insured but knee injury will cost him
Chip Towers November 17, 2014
MONDAY MORNING REWIND
1. Two weeks ago, as Georgia was getting ready to play Kentucky and Todd Gurley remained sidelined under NCAA suspension, Mark Richt was asked for the umpteenth time by a reporter if he was absolutely certain that his star tailback planned to return to play for the Bulldogs. Richt clearly had become annoyed by the question.
“I don’t know why we keep bringing that up,” Richt snapped. “He’s there, he’s practicing, he can’t wait to play.”
With 5:21 left to play against Auburn this past Saturday night, 92,746 people at Sanford Stadium and several million more tuning in via television saw in living, breathing color why that subject was continually broached. As he lay writhing on the turf and grasping at his left knee, future earnings trickled away from Gurley like the tears that fell down his cheeks.
According to the latest projections by ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Gurley was in position to be selected with the eighth pick in next spring’s NFL draft. This past year’s No. 8 selection – Cleveland Browns defensive back Justin Gilbert – signed a four-year, $12.8 million deal that included a $7.65 million signing bonus. Here’s a list of the salaries this past spring’s first-rounders landed.
So that’s roughly what Gurley was looking at earning, provided he arrived at the draft healthy and trouble-free. Based on Sunday’s news that Gurley had indeed suffered a torn ACL ligament injury that will require surgery, he certainly won’t be drafted that early; how he far he falls is anybody’s guess at this point. While players can recover quicker than ever from ACL tears these days, it generally takes a skill player – and especially a running back – a calendar year to get back up to speed and fully recover. And then there is the increased odds of them suffer another knee injury.
Suffice it to say, Gurley’s stock will fall.
2. But Gurley had to know he was taking a chance by returning to play for Georgia. Those inherent risks were detailed in an eerily prescient piece published by Forbes magazine contributor and sports law expert Marc Edelman this past Friday.
Wrote Edelman: “Todd Gurley has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by returning to college football. … If Gurley does return, he not only delays … opportunities, but risks losing them forever. Indeed, a single injury over the next several weeks could derail an NFL career, hurt his draft status, or destroy his marketability on even the endorsement market.”
And Saturday’s sad scenario was not unanticipated. For a few years now, the NCAA has allowed schools to provide high-end insurance protection for their most valuable players (literally and figuratively). In the past, such insurance options beyond your standard school-issue could be provided only by the player or his family.
UGA had already had acquired a such a policy for Gurley before his suspension reportedly was worth $5 million for a total disability and $2.5 million for “loss of value” (meaning a drop in draft status). But ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell reported on Sunday that Georgia added to that in the last two weeks. Gurley’s latest policy — held by International Specialty Insurance — provides $10 million in disability protection and $5 million for loss of value. And Rovell’s sources are telling him that Georgia paid between $50,000 and $60,000 for that policy.
Georgia won’t confirm any of that. UGA officials said Sunday that Gurley’s insurance information is protected by federal privacy laws and Athletic Director Greg McGarity declined comment.
But that makes sense from a timeline standpoint. UGA hired William King of the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin and White to represent Gurley on the day the school suspended Gurley and effectively declared him ineligible (Oct. 9). In fact, we learned later it was King and Gurley who delayed Gurley’s NCAA reinstatement for two weeks after UGA completed its investigation of his alleged infractions in just two days.
Seems logical they might have been mulling over Gurley’s options during that time.
Jury is out on value of baseball's high-priced front offices
November 15, 2014
The Astros' front office is known for being on the cutting edge, for not only carrying the most advanced tools and analytics but the wherewithal to use them.
Other teams with similar capabilities might not broadcast the fact, but it's unlikely many are better-equipped. Look west for an industry tremor.
What Houston native Andrew Friedman is doing with the Los Angeles Dodgers leaves a question of whether the Astros and other teams without the same financial might could fall behind, not only in the race for star free agents but intellectual prowess. The analytics, as well as employees who know how to utilize them, are available to teams at a price that looks modest compared to the cost of brand-name, proven executives who pioneered the model franchises and are paid like the Beatles.
Friedman, 38, the son of Houston lawyer J. Kent Friedman, attended Episcopal High School and grew up at the Astrodome. He was hired away from the Tampa Bay Rays in October to become Dodgers president of baseball operations, and he has built a dream-team front office.
Farhan Zaidi, a top lieutenant to Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, was brought in as Dodgers GM under Friedman, giving the Dodgers influences from two of the most renowned front offices in baseball - the Rays and A's.
Josh Byrnes, the former Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres GM who gave Astros manager A.J. Hinch his first managerial job in 2009, is a new senior vice president with the Dodgers.
Ned Colletti, the longtime Dodgers GM whom Zaidi replaced, remains with the organization, at least for now. Gerry Hunsicker, the GM of the Astros from November 1995 until November 2004, is a special adviser.
All of these men are in an umbrella under another known name - president and CEO Stan Kasten, who oversaw the dominant Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s. The Dodgers' ownership group includes Magic Johnson.
Built to succeed
"I don't know how different it is than what other people feel about their front offices," Friedman said. "When I was with the Rays, I felt like we had a tremendous group of people that worked really well together, complemented each other really well. We're aligned in what we're trying to accomplish. It's the same way here."
This kind of brainpower doesn't come cheaply. Friedman signed a five-year, $35 million deal, according to ESPN - nearly double Cubs president Theo Epstein's five-year, $18.5 million deal.
"It looks like they're paying pretty well," Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said jokingly of the Dodgers.
Assuming Friedman's deal calls for $7 million annually, he would have counted as the Astros' third-highest-paid player in 2014, greater than all but pitcher Scott Feldman and outfielder Dexter Fowler.
"It's like anything else: Teams are trying to build advantages any way they can, and that's a way that some teams have identified that as a way to build an advantage perhaps," Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said. "So they're investing in a certain type of talent, just like you invest in players."
As commissioner Bud Selig went on his farewell tour around ballparks this year, he praised the parity the game has seen in the later years of his tenure. Even though the San Francisco Giants have won championships three times in five years, there are only two of 30 clubs that have not made the playoffs from 2003 on: the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners.
MLB has been structured this way purposely. Teams are given incentives not to overspend in the draft and in free agency the way they once could. Combined with revenue sharing and the proliferation of smart, Moneyball-equipped executives, the gaps between franchises have lessened - in some respects, at least.
"The reality of every market in baseball, someone may outbid you on your free agent," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
Nonetheless, the Dodgers' 2014 player payroll was roughly $235 million, more than four times greater than the Astros' payroll of roughly $50 million.
Should the Astros and other clubs worry they can't keep up?
"Big-market, small-market potential difference," Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said. "But obviously, I know Andrew and Farhan well, and both of them are very talented and deserve what they're getting.
"There does seem to be increased competition for talented people that have had success in our industry. That's not the first time we've seen it. It's not the last time we're going to see it. As far as front offices with different layers that don't exist in our organization, it's a way to get more people in the organization."
Astros plan to spend
Eventually, the Astros are expected to spend more money. They have acted like small-market paupers since owner Jim Crane took over, but the market size dictates they have a latent capability beyond that. At the same time, the Astros probably won't be able to go punch for punch with the Cubs and Dodgers.
Houston's population size is misleading.
Media markets are in part predicated on surrounding areas and other elements that might not be seen in the official population size of the city, Luhnow said. Houston doesn't compare with Chicago and New York in that regard.
"We're between 10 and 15; that's our range based on our revenues and market size," Luhnow said. "We're the fourth-largest city in the country, but we're not the fourth-largest market in the country, not even close. We're not ever going to be a small market necessarily, but our revenues are not proportionate with our city size relative to other big metropolitan areas."
On the whole, baseball doesn't seem panicked by the Dodgers. Friedman said the rest of baseball hasn't become obsolete.
"So obviously, titles are different and it's more visible, but I think every front office in baseball feels really good about the dynamic they have," he said.
Huntington and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto went in the same direction. A group of lesser-known, less-expensive executives isn't tantamount to incompetence.
"Not everybody is going to be able to attract three different high-level executives from different walks of life," Dipoto said. "It doesn't mean they don't have three high-level executives that you just don't know about yet.
"At one point, Andrew Friedman was not a guy you knew off the top of your head. At one time, Josh Byrnes was an intern moving through the food chain at a young age. Until recently, Farhan was just a guy. Now they're studs, and deservedly so."
Said Huntington: "Andrew also had a really talented and really highly respected and just maybe not recognized group when he was in Tampa."
Like Luhnow, Cherington pointed out baseball has seen this model, with the Cubs and Epstein's hiring of Jed Hoyer as general manager. But Cherington allowed for the possibility the model was being altered. If that's the case, his club stands to be one that could keep up.
"The Dodgers aren't the first team," he said. "I think it started before that. You see what the Cubs did (by hiring GM Jed Hoyer), and other teams who have sort of maybe started to change the model and invest."
Less might be more
Other GMs spoke to the heart of the structure and indicated even if the financial resources were available to all clubs, it might not be the best move.
The more bodies there are in the room, the more chefs around the pot, the greater the potential for something to go wrong. Nimble can be helpful.
"There's a bit of a copycat industry in baseball, just like any other sport," Dipoto said.
"I think each team has to structure their operation so it runs efficiently," Duquette said. "Have appropriate leadership in recruiting and player development at the major league level. And then it's important for everybody to work together towards a common goal of having a good team and good players."
To make it run smoothly, Friedman acknowledged the importance of communication. That's an area with which the Astros have struggled - see the Sept. 1 firing of manager Bo Porter - even with a small front office.
"I'm incredibly confident that it will play out as a major advantage for us, not a disadvantage, through constant communication and making sure that we're aligned in the various things that we're doing," Friedman said. "We will debate things and come out of the room with a clear plan. Make sure that no dysfunction or anything like that sets in. I'm incredibly confident that we're all going to work incredibly well together.
"Our goal starting now is to have continuity for as far as we can see out. Invariably, people start working together for the first time, there are going to be things that pop up and things that are unforeseen. But when you do a really good job of communicating and getting in front of things, I think you react more quickly."
Maybe everyone needs to take a step back. All of the talk about the construction of a front office could be the tail wagging the dog, to a degree.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin referred to the ultimate bottom line.
"Players help win games," he said. "We've got two hitting coaches. There's hitting coaches all over the world. We got hitting coaches at every minor league level and hitting's down. More doesn't mean better.
"Sometimes it's better to have less. The success of clubs is still going to come down to the wins and losses on the field."
Twists of fate
Everything Friedman has done prompts a thought of what could have been. Crane received permission to interview Friedman in the winter of 2011, but it went nowhere. Luhnow was hired.
"I think the only thing that's constant in life is change, and things evolve in certain ways that you don't anticipate, and so my mindset on a lot of things were different five years ago than they were three years ago than they were a month ago," Friedman said when asked why he was willing to leave now, but not then. "It's something I felt like at this moment in time, it was something that made sense."
- · THE SEARCH FOR THE NEXT YELLOW LINE
Moneyball statistics are hard. Data visualization makes them easy.
Late in the 2013 NFL season, losing by a touchdown with less than two minutes on the clock, Washington wide receiver Pierre Garçon caught a pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III and scampered toward a first down before being tackled about a foot shy of the mark.
It was clear to viewers at home that Garçon had come down short because of the well-placed, digital yellow first down line projected across the screen. The referees on the field, however, first signaled that he had made the mark, let a play run, then reversed the call after the fact, effectively ending Washington’s comeback—a confusion born of lack of access to technology.
We tend to forget the time before the yellow line—before its debut in 1998—when TV viewers had no more idea than fans in the football stadium whether a receiver actually made the elusive first down. It conveyed a bare minimum of information, yet the innovation demystified football with a simple stroke of color.
Since then, sports data has broken the dam, with complex analytics spilling over from first down visualizations to Moneyball-era baseball, revealing a need for context that can channel the information. It’s given rise to a mashup of statistics, predictive analytics and visualization that can unlock the game for fans and help athletes find an edge. Think of it as a quest for the next yellow line.
“You can think of any sport and say, ‘How can we use visualization to enhance it?’” said Kirk Goldsberry, a visiting scholar at Harvard and writer at the sports site Grantland. “It can show the audience things, remove the opinion aspect for a more empirical evaluation.”
Goldsberry is a data polymath for the Internet era, equally adept at using spatial data to map the availability of fresh fruit in the inner city and the likelihood of sinking an NBA three-pointer from beyond the arc. He was among the first to create shot charts – a collision between art and data that can variously show a player’s shooting percentages or all their makes and misses from everywhere on the floor for a game, a season and even a career.
When he showed his work to LeBron James a few years ago, “He was floored by it.” The greatest player in the world had never seen his game so nakedly exposed. “It’s giving their games an MRI and exposing the special structures inherent in their talent,” he said.
But as sophisticated as sports teams have become at understanding data, Goldsberry said that the tech industry is still attracting the best talent. And sport borrows a lot from that industry. Goldberry’s heat maps of makes and misses are fundamentally the same as maps that track your clicks, scrolls and hovers on this article.
tennis match data points analyzed by IBM SlamTracker over last eight years
tweets about Rafael Nadal during the 2014 Australian Open
Elizabeth O’Brien, sports marketing manager for IBM, said that’s because the data challenges are the same for sports as for industry: What insights can you glean from a year’s worth of web traffic? How can you use past events to predict future performance?
“Data is data until you put it in context and unlock it for people,” O’Brien said.
This is particularly true for data heavy sports like tennis, which featured 19,000 matches, 400,000 games and 2.5 million points in ATP and WTA events in 2010, the last year for which data is publicly available, according to sports statistics company Enetpulse.
In an effort to organize this information, IBM took 41 million data points from past matches and put them in the SlamTracker app, which visualizes match data and predicts what each player needs to do to win.
Using past data, for example, the app might say that Rafael Nadal needs to win 50 percent of the rallies between four and nine shots to prevail. Here, the company borrows insights from the predictive analytics that can make predictions based on past events. Since data is data, as O’Brien said, the company can make the same predictions about the conditions needed for Nadal to win as it does for allocating web resources for a web traffic spike and do it in a way that can be easily consumed.
The ultimate goal, according to John Kent, program manager of Worldwide Sponsorship Marketing for IBM, is to “make something that is so visually intuitive that it needs no explanation.”
SlamTracker gives viewers the information they need at the moment they need it. “If somebody hits an ace, a visualization will come up that says, ‘this person has had an average of four aces per set through the tournament,” IBM’s O’Brien said.
Increasingly, as big data and visualizations evolve, it isn’t about flashing one yellow line, but about providing the right line at the right moment.
How to Injury-Proof Your Body
In 2011, Matt Forte, star running back for the Chicago Bears, made an appointment with physical therapist David Reavy. "His knee was bothering him, and he didn't know why," says Reavy, who works with top NBA and NFL players. "He disregarded that soreness as normal, and like most athletes, he walked it off, because that's what he was told to do." After all, an achy knee isn't so bad for an NFL running back — especially considering that Forte was a four-season veteran in a sport in which many running backs average just two and a half years.
Within minutes Reavy could tell that Forte's problem had little to do with a bum left knee. It turned out that the 218-pound athlete's body was radically unbalanced. A year earlier, Forte had pulled his left hamstring, which caused his left quad to weaken (the reason for his knee pain). The couplet of a weak quad and a tight hamstring, in turn, pulled Forte's pelvis into a backward tilt. That tilt made it harder for his abdominal muscles to engage, which undercut his ability to stabilize and balance. And because of the weakness in his core, Forte's lats weren't firing properly. "He was essentially playing a professional sport on one leg and at half his body's capacity," Reavy says.
Using a combination of deep-tissue massage and movements designed to "wake up" the muscle fibers in Forte's quads, abs, and lats, Reavy worked to balance Forte's body. And to ensure the same injuries didn't come back, he created a 15-minute routine of activation exercises to keep the running back's body aligned and his muscles fully firing. Says Forte: "Dave was telling me things about my body, making connections, that no one else had before; he found the root of the problem."
Reavy's prescription is something fitness pros call prehabilitation – a regimen of exercises and stretches designed to prevent injury (and thus the need for rehab) by creating more balance, flexibility, and strength. If Forte's experience is any indication, the results are powerful. Last year, he rushed for 1,339 yards, received for 594, and scored 12 touchdowns. It was his sixth and best season yet. "I do the moves, and I feel lighter, and the next day at practice I'm jumping and running better," says Forte, now 28. "It's changed my career. I hope to play 12 years in the NFL, which is unheard of for my position."
Even if you're not a pro athlete, a little prehab can go a long way. Many of us suffer from nagging aches and pains in our shoulders, backs, hips, and knees – and yet continue to shoot hoops, play tennis, or work out at the gym. Often we have imbalances that we don't even feel (the most common: glutes that don't fully engage during squats or while running up a hill, because of days spent at a desk). Without intervention, those old injuries, sore spots, and turned-off muscles can lead to serious problems, such as meniscus tears, arthritis, and slipped or ruptured discs. "Before you try to add strength, power, or speed, you must address muscle balance," says Reavy. "When people do it backward, that's when they break."
The idea makes common sense, yet prehab remains pretty rare. "It doesn't burn calories, it takes time, and it can hurt – there's pain that comes with addressing a tight muscle or scar tissue," says physical therapist Jill Miller. "A lot of us just want to get to the gym and lose weight." But that mentality is beginning to change, among gymgoers and therapists alike, says Dr. Peter Gorman, a physical therapist who works with Olympians, NFL players, and pro tennis players at CourtSense, a tennis club and fitness center in northern New Jersey. "For years, most therapists and doctors have been practicing reactive medicine," says Gorman. "Now it's not about saying, 'I'm the best at treating an ACL injury, but I'm the best at preventing an ACL injury.' "
Gorman estimates that 90 percent of sports-related injuries are due to training and playing with muscle imbalances, though many of them are tough to detect. He's developed a high-tech way to uncover them. His device is called OptoGait, and it measures an athlete's rhythm, balance, strength, and power. Two one-meter-long lines of electronic sensors are placed on the floor to create a lane, and an athlete stands between them and performs exercises like jumping or marching in place. The sensors detect whether the athlete is lifting one foot off the ground faster than the other or has more explosive power on one side. After a series of tests, Gorman can tell which muscles are and aren't firing, and can personalize his therapy accordingly. The tool provides such a training edge that pro athletes from skier Ted Ligety to sprinter Mo Farah to outfielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen have used the OptoGait to fine-tune their bodies.
Fortunately, you don't need fancy sensors to pinpoint imbalances. These days, you can ask for a basic movement screening test in nearly any gym or physical therapy office, the most popular of which was developed by physical therapist and strength coach Gray Cook. His Functional Movement Screen (FMS) consists of seven basic movements – think squat, lunge, twisting the torso – and acts as a common standard to judge movement patterns. On Cook's website, FunctionalMovement, you can locate a trainer or PT near you to administer the test, or you can use his pared-down 10-minute video to test yourself. "It's the American way to find shortcuts and hacks, but there's no getting around being able to perform these movements – they're essential for any athlete to perform well," says Cook. Each movement in the DIY test is pass-fail, and if you do fail, Cook provides simple solutions and exercises to address asymmetries.
So how do you know if you need prehab? For physical therapists like Chris Delehanty, owner of Physiofitness in New York City, that's like asking how you know if you need to go to the dentist. "You get a checkup to prevent cavities, right? This is the same idea," he says. "It's not just for injured old people or for post surgery, it's for an athlete. You can get a basic functional movement assessment, then get a plan to stay healthier and in your sport longer. That can happen in one session," says Delehanty. He laughs, "We're not shoveling any shit here."
Perhaps the best reason to embrace prehab is to discover the same thing Matt Forte did: what your body is actually capable of doing. "Guys come to me saying, 'My flexibility isn't that great,' or 'I'm not made to be a fast runner,' " says Reavy. "Well, no – you've just developed so many restrictions by reinforcing the same bad movement patterns that you've reduced your ability to do those things well." Correcting your unique imbalances provides the physical equivalent of a clean slate, says Reavy. "Then you can find out exactly how strong, fast, and fit you can really be."
THE WORLD’S MOST
VALUABLEHUMAN REAL ESTATE
Sports injuries don’t always just happen.
“This is some of the most expensive human real estate in the world," said Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist and the executive director of USC's Center for Body Computing.
She was referring to athletes like $72 million-man LeBron James, who famously cramped up in Game 1 of the NBA finals this year. Saxon believes that if James had been training with sensors that could detect his biometrics, he might have predicted the cramping and avoided it (though it would have been tough to predict the failure of the AT&T Center's air conditioner).
"There are early warning systems when you're about to cramp up," Saxon said. "The more you know about your training, the better you'll be."
Biometrics and sensors are quietly making inroads into many sports to detect vital signs while athletes train and even play. Saxon originally set out to prevent dangerous heart conditions from felling elite athletes by predicting when these events would happen. But the study of biometrics is evolving into a tool that can maximize performance, extend careers and even become a revenue stream for athletes. Stats like shooting percentages and RBIs aren't enough—now we're looking inside athletes' bodies, at respiration levels and heart rate BPMs.
Professional and college teams across the U.S. and around the world, including the World Cup winning German soccer team, the Pittsburgh Pirates and dozens of others, are using biometric tracking devices. It goes beyond the "Moneyball" obsession with complex sports analytics to "bio sports stats" that give managers and athletes more insight than ever into performance. And its impact is felt off the field too, letting fans know that, for example, when Pirates outfielder Travis Snider steps up to the plate, his heart rate can climb up to 180 beats.
The biometric trackers, which run the gamut from small electronic devices that fit in compression shirts to something resembling a stick-on tattoo, can monitor heart rate, breathing, perspiration, lactic acid and other vital signs. They can contain some combination of accelerometer, radio, GPS unit, magnetometer and gyroscope.
With enough data, trainers can predict what will happen to an athlete based on previous events. Trainers of the German national soccer team can tell if a player is getting sick or fatigued if their heart rate remains elevated compared to what it was when they did the same drill previously.
miles run by U.S. Mens National Team player Michael Bradley in the 2014 World Cup
Average number of games missed due to player injury for NSW Waratahs Rugby team
Trainers have also embraced biometrics in sports with high injury rates like rugby, which loses each player for an average of 2 games per season. The New South Wales Waratahs rugby team in Australia, for example, suffered separated shoulders and torn knees that can leave eight players on a 35-player roster on the bench for a typical game. In 2013, 18 players suffered 24 injuries, which cost the club roughly $2.7 million dollars and contributed to a ninth place finish.
Desperate to keep its roster healthy, the team turned to IBM as a technology partner to bring the lessons of cloud analytics to the sweaty struggle of the rugby field. The company used its data expertise to track the Waratahs players' biometrics on the field using tracking units beneath their uniforms for practice and games, and their diet and sleep regimens off it.
From each of the 119 data points that measure everything from force of tackles to calorie counts, IBM then uses predictive analytics to help trainers better understand what's injuring their players. Anecdotal evidence is promising; the team has dominated opposition this season, topping Super Rugby's Australia Conference for the first time in team history with a point differential of more than 200. Moreover, only six players had suffered nine injuries as of playoff time.
"We thought the majority of injuries just happened," said NSW Waratahs Athletic Development Manager Haydn Masters. "Now we know we can prevent them and predict them."
The same biometrics data that can prevent injuries is also some of the most personal data imaginable: a record of an athlete's every heartbeat, their speed, and their ability to withstand blows. USC's Saxon sees enormous possibilities in that data, both for people who want to study it and for the athletes.
"A lot of the issues with athletes is that they become these cultural figures and then when they're done, they're done and they're discarded," Saxon said. "Biometrics is an additional way to compensate the athlete."
The emerging adoption of biometrics promises to not only enhance performance and lengthen careers, but also promises to be an immortal record of bodies in motion in the form of data, giving fans a look at how their favorite athletes' bodies work—and a way to understand how they play the game.