By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Six-foot-five, 310-pound offensive lineman Britt Lively is a pretty tough guy. A third-year starter on the Wildcat football team, the senior has gained quite a reputation for moving defenders with ease. But ask him how the weather’s been during ACU’s preseason practices, and he ditches the manly persona.
“I’m not gonna lie to you; it’s pretty hot out there,” he said. “I think I lost 21 pounds in one practice just from sweating.”
Indeed, the heat-often reaching over 95 and 100 degrees-that Wildcat players have endured over the past few weeks of practice has been severe. And with all the heat-related deaths and injuries on the gridiron in recent years, the high temperatures raise the usual health concerns and beg the question: What can be done about the heat problem?
Possibly a lot, thanks to new technology. USA Today reported on Aug. 12 that the NCAA is commissioning a high-tech study to understand how heat and hydration affect football players. In the study, players swallow a vitamin-sized “radio pill” the night before. The pill-complete with a battery, communication coils and a temperature-sensing crystal-emits continuous low-frequency radio waves, which can then be picked up and translated by a receiver held at the athlete’s abdomen.
The temperature pill technology-currently used at Division I schools Connecti-cut and Oklahoma, and Division II West Chester (Pa.) University-was developed in 1988 by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in collaboration with NASA.
Dr. Sandy Godek, athletic trainer and professor in sports medicine at West Chester, first conducted the study a year ago after hearing about the pills from a colleague. The NCAA found out about her study, and in lieu of its rule change to curb the intensity of preseason practice this year, wanted to compare her old data with new data and re-conduct the study.
“The NCAA agreed to partially fund this study,” Godek said. “It’s interesting to do comparative studies to last year.”
Her studies in the past few weeks haven’t returned any results yet, but she said last year’s studies-which she also conducted with Philadelphia Eagles players-helped her make several findings.
“We found that post-conditioning temperatures are higher than pre-conditioning,” said Godek. “We brought in runners and monitored them as well as football players, and found that football players’ temperatures tend to defluctuate more. We also found that hydration status is not nearly as important as exercise intensity.”
Godek also said that a players’ size didn’t correlate with his core temperature.
“We tested all different shapes and sizes of Eagles players,” she said. “It really isn’t a big difference between the big guys and the small guys.”
ACU football head trainer Rick Fox said he had heard of the core temperature studies, and was happy they were being conducted.
“It’s good news,” he said. “It’s always beneficial to us when we get new research done in the field. It’s one of the first times this has been studied to this degree. We’ve always known that players heat up, but this is one of the only sports-only studies. Most studies like this have been done by the military.”
Fox also said that studies like this would be helpful in varying climates.
“Here we have high heat and low humidity, and other places might have high heat and high humidity,” said Fox. “Circumstances might be different in different situations.”
Lively also thought it to be a good study.
“That’d be a great thing for us,” he said. “It could help out a lot. If my body was too hot, they could pull me out without me putting my body in danger.”
Danger is certainly what Godek is trying to help prevent, as she mentioned expanding the study to even the prep football level.
“We probably need to collect data on high school athletes too,” she said. “The pros have access to fluids and food almost all the time, and high school athletes don’t always have that available to them.”
In the long run, Godek said her research could help dictate whether the NCAA sticks with its new rule of a lighter preseason practice schedule, something that would even affect ACU.
“This might affect whether the NCAA enacts this rule permanently,” she said. “It might even dictate what the NFL does, as well.”
Look for a full season preview on the ACU football team in Friday’s issue of the Optimist.