The Age of Robot Football is Upon Us, All Hail Our New Electronic Overlords

By Johnny Ginter on April 3, 2020 at 10:10 am

The year is 20XX AD. Man is obsolete.

Where once uber-motivators roamed free, sending student-athletes 4 AM texts about running stairs or screaming themselves hoarse extolling the motivating virtues of Full Metal Jacket or setting up hammocks in weight rooms as a hilarious "joke" (but you know, not actually a joke), coaches like Mickey Marotti and Kerry Coombs are now confined to their domiciles because of their fleshy human bodies and its weakness to a virus.

Now... is the time of machines.

And for a football coach, what could be better? Jim Tressel once famously said and then repeatedly pleaded that "nothing good happens past 10," which is extremely incorrect, but indicative of the kind of control and observation that coaches would love to be able to exert over their players if they could.

Nick Saban, with the power of advanced AI monitoring technology, can now do so much more than simply ask that his players adhere to a workout regimen or go to bed after just two episodes of Tiger King instead of binge watching the entire thing. Saban can track movement, heart rate, sleep time, speed, which frankly covers the gamut of all human activity outside of eating. And who knows?!? Perhaps that's around the corner as well.

For his part, Saban's loving it:

Saban revealed that his program is even using Apple Watches to help the staff monitor the players’ training and workouts.

“They were very instrumental in setting up this whole program of what we’re doing with the players in terms of Apple watches for their workouts, apps on their phones for weight training programs,” Saban added.

The obvious reasoning here is that Saban heard about Roko's Basilisk and is trying to avoid being punished by a future AI. But whatever his personal motivations, one of the things to keep in mind as we collectively go stir crazy is that once we (eventually) return to something resembling normalcy is that sports at large are going to have a lot of choices to make.

Some of these choices are opportunities to make sports better.

Freed from the constraints of things like traditional scheduling and broadcasting norms, organizations like the NCAA and its member institutions would be free to experiment with ways to make the fan experience better and more accessible. They could offer streaming services that reflect how people, especially people college age and younger, are consuming media.

They could look at this moment as an opportunity to give players more input and direction into their own image or money-making ability; once college football starts up again, how fun would it be to see marquee players be able to create their own media identities and begin the new season with a bang?

And many programs and athletic departments themselves might want to ask hard questions about whether its feasible to continue unsuccessful, expensive, and therefore often subsidized football teams. That's not a fun choice, but it might be better for fans and students in the long run.

Others might see this as an opportunity to make Sports worse.

What I'm worried about is that in the aftermath of COVID-19, The Powers That Be in college athletics will learn all of the wrong lessons from this experience. Instead of looking for ways to improve, they might double down on trying to maintain older and outmoded ways of perpetuating the sports they govern at the expense of innovation.

Any changes or "improvements" might mean simply downsizing the college sports experience in a way that asks fans to give up on qualify of life improvements like better seating or WiFi, deems an increasing amount of support staff and media as "nonessential," and centralizes broadcasting power even more than it already has been.

What's worrisome about all of that is the impetus for all of this change, staying financially solvent, isn't some abstract or impossible fear. College football was already facing tough financial challenges due to declining attendance well before worries about social distancing reared its ugly head. Schools and governing bodies like the NCAA would be irresponsible to not be planning for what comes after all of this, and I simply hope that they make the right choices in the meantime.

But really, I'm just scared of robots.

dun dun dunnn

They could be anywhere! Linesmen? Robots. Footballs? Robots. Fans? Robots. Twitter bots? Oh, you better believe those are some robots.


At least there's one guy still holding the line against this mechanical, automated, AI-spying horde:

“There are different things that we’re doing just in terms of communication and accountability,” [Ohio State head football coach Ryan] Day said. “We have messages with our players that if we have to check on you or you say you’re doing something and you’re really not, then we’re not much of a team anyways. [...]"

Damn right! This isn't just about football.


It's about trust, and knowing that there's no fate but what we make.

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