College basketball needs RefCam

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
4:30
PM ET
The state of modern technology makes it hard to have perspective. Everything is so consistently awesome -- my phone can instantly play an episode of TV via magical invisible airwaves -- that we tend to become inured to just how great we have it.

Cell phones are the obvious example, but it applies to sports broadcasts, too. When you watch a ton of hi-def sports, you get mad when a broadcast isn't in HD. Or maybe you think a camera angle isn't ideal. Or you hate the overhead views. Or you love the overhead view and want to see more. You don't really think about the logistics of wiring a camera to the top of an arena and operating it robotically above a live sports event. Frankly, I can't even fathom it. But if you watch a lot of old hoops highlights (and I do), you realize pretty quickly that even obvious things like an ever-present scoreboard were once a technological impossibility. They literally just held a camera up to the clock.

All of which is why I hesitate to scream "Why haven't we thought of something like this!" about RefCam: Sometimes you get so caught up wanting the next new thing, you forget how good you have it.

And with that out of the way, let me just say it: I can't believe we haven't thought of something like this before.

RefCam, which has begun its initial trial uses in Australian rules football and English Rugby Union, is just what it sounds like: The referee wears an eyeball-height camera wrapped around his ear, which is connected to microphones underneath his shirt. It's essentially like strapping a GoPro to a referee's head and seeing what he sees, as he sees it.

The results are incredible. You can see a Telegraph video of a test in England here, a feature on its trial in Australia here, and an ECHL hockey referee's test in bright Vimeo resolution here. Seeing is, well, you know.

Now imagine if, in addition to all of the camera angles and setups we have in college hoops, we could get camera footage from officials. They're on the court, surrounded by the fans, just feet or inches away from the players, and their eyes are naturally (obviously) trained on the most important parts of the game. It's a ready-made incursion inside the invisible bubble that separates you from the game. The barriers are gone.

Of course, there are some obvious issues, namely that most officials probably don't want to wear microphones for broadcasts, and probably aren't thrilled with the idea of providing the footage of what they saw when they make their calls. Most coaches and players probably would prefer that not happen, either. And you wouldn't want to use this for the entire broadcast; it would make people nauseous. But being able to splice footage from RefCam in to see tight calls might have the reverse effect of increasing referee empathy -- of making it easier to understand just how difficult it is to officiate such a fast, physical game.

Plus, imagine the camera angles. Imagine the audio you could pick up. Imagine the shots we could splice in to an already thrilling broadcast. Imagine ...




The possibilities are truly limitless.

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