It's common to see NFL coaches and players looking at tablets on the sideline as they view real-time images and analysis during games. Next season, college basketball will take a major step toward embracing that technology trend, with the Mountain West announcing an official partnership with ShotTracker, a company that will provide in-game analytics data to coaches, on Wednesday.
During Mountain West games, the league announced, coaches will have access to a slate of intricate data (lineup effectiveness, shot trends, individual player efficiency, etc.) during conference play that they will use at halftime to make strategic, in-game adjustments. They will also use the technology in practices.
Both Magic Johnson and former NBA commissioner David Stern are investors in ShotTracker, which will also provide data for fans and TV analysts.
But the NCAA has banned the use of technology on the bench during games. Mountain West officials will seek a waiver, however, to gain clearance to use ShotTracker technology in games, a move that has been backed by the NCAA, per conference officials.
It's also a move that could open the door for other leagues to follow the Mountain West's lead.
"There is absolutely a request coming through the NCAA," said Dan Butterly, senior associate commissioner of the Mountain West. "I've had conversations since November with the NCAA staff and the secretary rules editor Art Hyland, relative to the use of this technology on the bench. We've been encouraged to utilize the system and ask for those waivers. I think there's an interest there in seeing what technology can do for college basketball, similar to what it's done for the NFL and the NBA. It is the future of the game."
Davyeon Ross, founder of ShotTracker, said he has been in talks with officials in other conferences. He said he anticipates three to five other leagues adopting the technology next season.
"This is going to change college basketball," he told ESPN. "We're in conference meetings this week. You're going to see more conferences jump on board because this is the wave of the future."
Although this is ShotTracker's first official partnership with a conference, the company has worked with numerous programs to provide advanced stats in recent years.
"Statistics give you the real numbers," said Michigan State's Tom Izzo in a recent interview. "ShotTracker is honest. That would be the big word I'd use."
The company is outfitting Michigan State's men's and women's basketball facilities this week with ShotTracker technology.
Analytics aren't new within college basketball. But ShotTracker uses technology to track everything that unfolds within a game.
Through sensors positioned within players' uniforms, the basketballs used in a game and the arena, ShotTracker can evaluate players and possessions. An instant "heat map" can tell coaches where their players have found the most success. It can track the efficiency of a team's offense or defense based on the number of passes that are made on a possession. It can identify the opposing player most likely to sink a crucial free throw in the final seconds of a close game.
Butterly said the new NET rankings, which includes efficiency as one of its criteria, make tracking the numbers in real time more significant for coaches. The NCAA, which permitted ShotTracker technology to be implemented in games last season at the Hall of Fame Classic and the Mountain West conference tournament, has embraced the tech trend, too.
"The NCAA's approval of ShotTracker technology on the bench at the Hall of Fame Classic is a huge stride forward for the sport of basketball," Stern, the former NBA commissioner, said then in a statement released by the NCAA. "For the first time, Division I coaches will have unprecedented access to real-time data and powerful intel via ShotTracker's app throughout the duration of each game. The Hall of Fame Classic is the perfect stage to display the possibilities of this technology at the next level."
Ross said the goal with this year's Mountain West partnership is to make numbers accessible and understandable.
"I think that people are becoming students of the game," Ross said. "I think what we're doing is we're making it readily available. People have been doing this for some time, it's just been a tedious process. Where we are as a society, it's been really helpful to bring people full circle to embrace it and make them understand the game more. You don't have to be a data scientist."