Revolutionary technology bridging the gap between BSU football and safety

Revolutionary technology bridging the gap between BSU football and safety
Thursday, April 18, 2019
By CJ Baumgartner
Revolutionary technology bridging the gap between BSU football and safety

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- As the Bemidji State University football team prepares for their annual spring game Saturday, 26 players have spent the spring testing revolutionary high-tech equipment that can have a life-altering influence on the game of football going forward.

Beaver football is testing new impact monitor mouthguards to receive better data on head injuries. The team’s annual Green and White spring game Saturday, April 20 will be the first true field test of the equipment from a company in BSU’s own backyard.

Prevent Biometrics is a company based in Edina, Minn., who is providing the Beavers with the high-tech mouthguards. Head athletic trainer Eric Sand was contacted by the company and expressed interest in having the football players at Bemidji State use their product.

“We know that head injuries in football are a constant threat and this is a way for us to try and monitor how many impacts players are getting on a day-to-day basis,” said Sand.

How can a mouthguard help prevent and detect concussions? While the devices can’t prevent or diagnose a concussion, there is a small sensor in the mouthguard which monitors the head impacts an athlete sustains. This allows the impact to be measured and reported in real-time. 

“An accelerometer in the mouthguard is sensing G-forces. It senses linear G-forces and rotational G-forces and it can sense based on those motions where the impact is coming from and the size of the impact,” said Sand next to the blinking red and green lights of the electronic case that charges and sanitizes the mouthguards. “We have an app on the iPad that links the mouthguards up through Bluetooth and sends the data constantly back and forth.”

Basically, the sensors in the mouthguard detect both the force of the impact and the direction of the hit a player receives. The app will put an image on the screen that shows the details of the head impacts of a player. These details are the number of head impacts a player has sustained in a game, the location of the head impact, and the force of the head impact. All of these factors can help athletic trainers better assess if a player has sustained a concussion.

Sand had been looking into new equipment to access better data on head impacts. One option was using sensors in helmets, but that presents a couple of problems. One issue is the players use more than one helmet during the season which would require multiple sensors to be ordered for each player. The biggest issue with using helmets to detect head impacts is that the helmet sensors aren’t as precise because the helmets are not fully connected to the head which can affect the quality of the data being received by athletic trainers.

Having sensors in the mouthguards allows more exact data on head impacts to be collected compared to helmet sensors. Because the mouth is directly connected to the head, more accurate data will be shown.

Head coach Brent Bolte understands how seriously head injuries need to be taken and has been behind the idea from the start.

“Anytime you can put your kids in a safer situation and gather the data that way, why wouldn’t you? It was a no brainer from our end,” said Bolte.

The science and technology behind all of this is fun to think about but will only work if the players want to wear them. One of the 26 players wearing the mouthguards is linebacker Gabe Ames, who has spent time after practice to find out what information the new equipment brings.

“It’s cool to see the technology that they put into those things,” explained Ames. “They can just plug them into this little box, unplug them and put them in your mouth and see the technology go to work.”

Ames understands how beneficial devices like these can be for player safety.

“This will be huge for identifying concussions and nipping them in the bud right away and getting them under control as much as possible,” said Ames.

There were concerns by some of Ames’s teammates. The sensors inside the mouthguard make them a little bit bigger and bulkier than traditional mouthguards, which can be an annoyance for some players. According to Ames, though, “It feels like a normal mouth guard.”

The main concern from players is that the data could be wrong or the technology could malfunction and take them out of a game when they should still be on the field.

“Nobody wants to sit out,” said Ames. “That’s what we (players) were skeptical about. Technology malfunctions all the time so you never know.”

The concerns of the players went away when Sand and the athletic training staff went over how the mouthguards work and how the data would be collected.

“There were some guys who were like ‘Are they going to take me out?’” Bolte said. “I thought Eric (Sand) and the training staff did a good job explaining what was going on.”

New breakthroughs in technology from companies like Prevent Biometrics are crucial for the future of tackle football. Sand and Bolte hope to use the information gained from the mouthguards to maximize player safety in games and to reduce head impacts during practice.

“It gives us another tool… to try and protect individuals,” said Sand. “Teach them what drills they can avoid, teach people specifically when to avoid contact or how much contact they are getting.”

“Hopefully it’s a safer sport,” said Bolte. “I think that’s what we’re all trying to do and encourage.”

Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).