MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There are many differences between the NFL and college football. One key difference is how teams get play calls from the sideline to the players on the field.
NFL teams use headsets for the coaches and a radio receiver embedded inside a select number of helmets, most notably the quarterback’s. College football teams, however, are left with a myriad of hand gestures, body movements, giant signs, and verbal communication.
“I’ve been a proponent for it,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said Monday. “It makes no sense that we don’t have helmet communication.”
The NCAA is currently investigating the Michigan football program due to widespread allegations of sign stealing said to have been conducted by a Wolverines staff member. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who missed the first three games of this season for unrelated recruiting violations, has come under fire in light of the allegations.
Brown, in his fifth season in charge of the Mountaineers, is among the many around the sport and larger sports landscape who don’t understand why college football has not yet adopted the NFL’s model of communicating with its players on game day.
“With all the money we have in college football, it is one of the more asinine things that we don’t have helmet communication. And I’ve been an advocate for it,” he said. “I’m the Big 12 representative for the [American Football Coaches Association]. I’m on a rules deal. I’ve been an advocate for it. It makes no sense.”
In the NFL, each offensive and defensive team is allowed one player with the radio receiver, or speaker, in his helmet on the field at a time. Those players, typically the quarterback on offense and linebacker or leader on defense, are required to have a green sticker on the back of their helmets. That lets the officials know which helmet has the speaker.
Coaches on the sideline can communicate with the player on the field during specific windows. Communication is open from the time the previous play is ruled over by the game official until the moment the play clock reaches 15 seconds or the ball is snapped, whichever occurs first.
The system has been in place since 1994 at the pro level, though it continues to be absent from the NFL’s largest talent-feeder league.
“Like, it’s easy. The technology is there. We’ve used it the last two springs,” Brown noted.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza, Oregon head coach Dan Lanning, and Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule have all publically voiced their desire to bring the NFL model of in-game communication to college football over the past week. Saban and Rhule both have first-hand knowledge of it from their time as NFL head coaches.
The NCAA tested the technology in 2021, allowing Southern and Grambling to use NFL-styled coach-to-player communications for their regular-season contest in late November. Despite Southern interim head coach Jason Rollins calling it a “game changer for college football,” the technology still hasn’t received the full-time green light at the collegiate level.
Brown, however, predicts fans will see the NCAA take another crack at it later this year.
“One hundred percent, we should use it,” he said. “I think the bowl games, I think you’ll see it being used in some bowl games hopefully. And then this time next year, some of this nonsense we don’t have to worry about it.”