March 17, 2022
While fans fill out brackets, March Madness is using technology to make the action better than ever.
In the early days of March Madness, box scores covered the bare essentials: points, rebounds and assists. Metrics like player efficiency ratings and true shooting percentages weren't even on the radar. Even defensive stats like steals and blocks weren't initially tracked.
Today NCAA basketball teams have enormous amounts of data at their fingertips. Paired with innovative new technology and tracking features, March Madness has become even more engaging — whether you're on the court or at home rooting for that 12-over-5 upset to hit. Here's a look at how tech is helping to transform this popular sporting event.
Enhanced March Madness Fan Experience
Fans remain one of the biggest components of March Madness. While games were played without fans in 2021, this year will mark the return of the in-arena version of the madness.
For those cheering their favorite teams from home, you can enjoy multi-game streaming and other recent tech enhancements. CBS and Turner Sports last year got creative with their broadcasts. They unleashed the robotic RailCam and SkyCam systems, which provided new perspectives on the action, and even piped in virtual audio to recreate the roar of the crowd at key moments.
The NCAA also enhanced its streaming options through its site and official app with unique features like an on-court virtual shot clock and "hype wall" designed around catchphrases tied to the tournament. Among new features this year are an interactive starting lineup challenge that borrows elements from the stock market.
To watch the action, simply say your favorite team's name into the Contour voice remote and you can find live broadcasts or postgame results.
Better Player Data
The role of technology with the fan experience reflects a more sophisticated approach to how college basketball is being played.
To gain advantages, college teams have added roles like statistical analysts and data scientists. These tech all-stars track every possession, from who's shooting to how many passes a player makes. Armed with that data, they compile databases of the team's plays and trends, showing what's working — and just as importantly — what's not.
The NCAA is likely to continue borrowing pages from the NBA's playbook, too. We're probably not far off from artificial intelligence (AI) referees calling defensive three-second violations. Soon we may also see player tracking via cameras in rafters and sensors in balls to identify tendencies like dribbling frequency, favorite shooting locations and preferences for creating their own shot.
Knowing those tendencies not only helps scout opposing teams but also benefits recruiting. If a coach is recruiting a shooting guard, for example, they can use analytics to pair that player with the team's current point guard to see how well they will mesh.
Helping Jump Shots, Drivers
Teams still need to put the ball through the hoop. A consistent jump shot is key, and technology is providing an assist.
The HomeCourt app uses sophisticated computer vision and machine learning to help a player improve their jumpers. Since only a smartphone is required for tracking, it evens the playing field between the top programs and the up-and-comers.
The HomeCourt app highlights elements the naked eye couldn't spot. Players receive metrics like launch angle, reaction time and shot arcs and can make adjustments accordingly. It just may prove the difference between a surprise Final Four run and an early exit.
This technology has uses outside of the sport, too. For instance, self-driving car technology can use computer vision to sense possible objects near the road, like an animal, a fallen street sign, or even a pickup basketball game. You never know when a particularly hearty block will swat the ball into the street, so it's best to be prepared.
Better Officiating Through Tech
In 2015, the NCAA introduced the Precision Time System for officials, syncing the game clock to a whistle blow. The average delay between an official making a call and a scorekeeper stopping the clock is 0.7 seconds — over the course of a game, that can add up to 30 critical seconds of missed time.
Now whistles are moving into the digital world. Fox 40, the largest manufacturer of whistles in North America, created a palm-sized digital whistle for officials. It has three distinct tones, a push button and the ability to give verbal commands.
Instead of blowing into the whistle, a microphone near the official's mouth connects to a microprocessor in their belt pack. The sound of the whistle triggers the processor, sending an RF signal to a station connected to the game clock.
Added (pandemic) bonus: Reducing the risk of potential airborne viruses is highly beneficial for both teams and officials.
This year should bring us another thrilling March Madness experience. No matter how your squad performs, technology will help ensure a winning event.