Coaches, players adjusting to new electronic whistles

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics Oklahoma State receiver Dillon Stoner talks with an official prior to Saturday’s opener against Tulsa. There has been a lot of talk about the officials using electronic whistles this year in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced innovation to move forward quicker in many fields, including football fields.

In attempt to add precautions to the virus that can potentially be spread by airborne transmission, the NCAA has officials for football parting ways with the old shrill whistle of the past for one that doesn’t utilize a referee exhaling into a chamber. And this, limiting spittle to make its way onto the field and in the air around the football players.

Instead, they have implemented an electronic whistle that looks like a speaker on a loop with a button to trigger the “whistle” to stop a play.

Oklahoma State got its first experience with the whistles in front of a crowd of nearly 15,000 in the season opener against Tulsa, and per the ESPN broadcast – as well as coach and player reaction afterward – it was not a success.

There were multiple times in the opener in which a play carried out while officials were attempting to call it dead due to a penalty.

“I never heard one,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “But you know they don’t blow whistles in the game? The only time that officials – I didn’t realize this until about 12 years ago. The only time officials blow whistles in a game is when they are trying to stop the game, stop the clock, or the end of a quarter, or a timeout or something. Just in the flow of a game, which is the majority of the game, they don’t ever blow whistles to end a play. I never heard the electronic whistle.

“Hopefully both teams understand just like when to stop and when not to stop. But I actually forgot they had electronic whistles until you brought it up. I never heard a whistle.”

But perhaps that is because Gundy was on the sideline, often times trying to get a better look of the field by being down at the opposite end of the action?

So what about for the players on the field, who were completely surrounded by the new technology?

“I heard a couple whistles, but I didn’t really pay any mind to it,” linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez said. “Your adrenaline rush is going, you can’t really hear until the play’s over.”

Fortunately for some athletes, there are other obvious signs that can have them break from the action and prevent escalating the scenario.

“I don’t even listen for the whistle, I just saw the play stop,” defensive lineman Cameron Murray said. “I just keep going until I see everybody else stop. You couldn’t really hear them much, to be honest.”

But there is an obvious concern for the inability for players to hear.

Not all defensive players may have the wherewithal to notice a play being called dead. After all, most elite football players have been hardwired to “play through the whistle.”

So there is a risk, if the effectiveness of the electronic whistle is not figured out soon, of potential injury to a player who knows the play is dead by a player who never heard the electronic tweet.

“Yeah it can become a bad thing, but you kind of know when it’s time to let up and kind of keep going,” Murray said. “Even with the whistles thing, it helps a little bit, but being out there you just kind of feel for it. You just kind of feel like, if this is a late hit, just pull off a little bit. Just some things you have to take into your own hands and do it. That’s really it.”

Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State athletics.

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