LAS VEGAS — Utilizing new technology is a “very high priority” for the NCAA, according to the organization’s leader.

GeekWire met with NCAA President Mark Emmert last week at CES, the giant tech event in Las Vegas, after he spoke on a panel hosted by Turner Sports that included NBA Commissioner David Stern, former NBA star Grant Hill, and WNBA legend Sue Bird.

We talked to Emmert, who was previously president at the University of Washington — he also earned his bachelor’s from the Seattle-based university — about how the NCAA thinks about and uses technology. He said the non-profit association, which helps manage nearly 500,000 student-athletes across a wide variety of sports, applies new tech in many different ways.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver; NCAA President Mark Emmert; and former NBA star Grant Hill.

Some are similar to other governing bodies of sports leagues — the NCAA wants to use technology to improve the fan experience, both at the game and from afar, for example. But it’s also using new digital tools for something specific to student athletes who end up away from campus because of travel: “distance learning,” as Emmert described.

“You can take your class with you,” he said. “You have the ability to not miss as much class because it’s supportable now, so that helps our students a lot.”

The NCAA is also different in that its student-athletes are all mostly in the 18-to-22 age range — they are millennials who are comfortable and savvy with new technology.

“It’s a very different student than a baby boomer,” said Emmert, who still has a home in the Seattle area.

He noted that the NCAA is engaged in the “biggest concussion study in the world” with the Department of Defense to help improve the safety of student-athletes. The study is utilizing everything from sensors to big data processing power to learn more about the impacts of concussions or other head-related injuries. Emmert said it’s already helped the NCAA make rule changes, like limiting the amount of impact football players can take during practice.


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