By: Mariah L. Bayless Davis

When asked about having the 2018 No. 1 recruiting class, Kirby Smart, head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, said, “my goal is to outwork everybody in recruiting, sign the best players in the state, and turn these guys into the best team we can.”[1] What if the way to outwork everybody is to work smarter, not harder?

Virtual reality is a new emerging technology, however, the basic design and theory used to create VR headsets has been around since 1838.[2] By using the basic principles of virtual reality, William Gruber created the View-Master in 1939, which popularized virtual tourism. Today’s virtual reality headsets are designed for users to be able to immerse themselves in a 360-degree environment, completely separate and different than their own.[3] The recent transformation of virtual reality happened in 2011 in the basement of a Southern California home.[4] 18-year-old Palmer Luckey created the first prototype of the well-known Oculus Rift, that produced far more realistic results than the designs from 1838 and 1939.[5] Aside from developing the graphics, the technology behind the 360, realistic environment in which users are submerged into is revolutionary. Most virtual reality environments are constructed through the use of 360-degree cameras that essentially scan a real-time environment and translate it to a format for the VR headsets to read.[6] Users can also experience virtual reality without the headset by wearing 3D glasses in an Immersive VR environment.[7] An immersive environment is made up of twenty-four Sony digital cinema 4k projectors that display more than 100 million pixels on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the 10-foot-by-10-foot room.[8] Since the technology started being used in 1939 for virtual tourism, the advanced immersive experience is now being used by college admission offices to offer out of state students an opportunity to come on campus without leaving their couch.[9] Just as the technology is being used in admission offices, VR headsets are also being used across the country within Division I football programs.

In 2016, University of Michigan became the first D1 program to announce their plans to use VR technology as a recruiting tool, allowing recruits to experience a day in the life of a Michigan football player without ever stepping foot in Ann Arbor.[10] Other programs such as Arkansas and Minnesota use the technology to show practice, game day, campus experience, and more in an effort to tell a story about their programs that would otherwise be difficult to convey.[11] By using the technology while recruiting, smaller schools like Arkansas and Minnesota are able set themselves apart from their respective competitive conferences where bigger recruiting budgets usually means bringing in higher ranked student athletes.[12] While virtual reality benefits smaller schools with smaller recruiting budgets, the technology can also help those students who are recruited by bigger programs like Michigan, but simply cannot travel to the school for one reason or another.

It is very normal for high school students to go on college trips well before their senior year. However, for student athletes, NCAA regulations state that students cannot take their five official visits to schools until their senior year of high school.[13] NCAA defines official visits as “recruiting trips where the school is allowed to pick up the tab.”[14] Sometimes waiting until your senior year to start visiting schools is too late, but since unofficial visits are covered solely by the student athlete and their family, NCAA regulations put disadvantaged students in a rough spot.[15] The development of VR could help this situation, but with the NCAA manual being updated every year, one can only wonder when and if they will try to regulate the use of virtual reality.

Working smarter, not harder, also requires one to outsmart the system. As the national governing body of college sports, the NCAA is skillful in identifying and closing loopholes. It is only a matter of time before they close this virtual portal leading to a level playing field.

 

[1]Adam Rittenberg, Kirby Smart Finally Awakens Recruiting Giant, ESPN, http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/22276885/with-georgia-success-kirby-smart-awakens-recruiting-giant.

[2]See Scott Schroeder, Virtual Reality: Game-changing Technology for College Athletics, Athletic Business, https://www.athleticbusiness.com/apps-software/what-virtual-reality-can-do-for-college-recruiting.html.

[3]Abi Mandelbaum, How Colleges Can Even the Recruiting Field with Virtual Reality, Sports Bus. J., Apr. 2016.

[4]See Dan Murphy, Michigan Testing Virtual Reality for Recruits, ESPN, http://www.espn.com/blog/ncfnation/post/_/id/112924/michigan-testing-virtual-reality-for-recruits.

[5]See id.

[6]See Schroeder, supra note 2.

[7]See Jacquelyn Bengfort, College Recruiting Goes Virtual with Immersive Technology, EdTech, https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2017/10/college-recruiting-goes-virtual-immersive-technology.

[8]Id.

[9]See id.

[10]See id.

[11]Darren Heitner, Golden Gophers Go with Virtual Reality to Tempt Football Recruits, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2016/11/23/golden-gophers-go-with-virtual-reality-to-tempt-football-recruits/#6b7bbb4222e4.

[12]See id.

[13]See Murphy, supra note 4.

[14]Id.

[15]See id.

Image Source: http://www.thedartmouth.com/article/2018/02/football-team-uses-state-of-the-art-virtual-reality-tool

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