Imagine the coach of your NFL team failing to relay the play call to the quarterback on the field because his outdated analog headset is picking up the random signal of nearby airplane pilots.

Seems a little farfetched for America’s largest sport to have simple communication problems right? But just ask San Francisco 49ers Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, about trying to communicate with his quarterback, Alex Smith, last year.

According to Roman, “There was one time when I was doing it and it happened to be on the same frequency as an airline in a certain city and it was a critical situation in the game and all you hear is Southwest pilots talking.”

Ever since coaches and coordinators began using headsets in 1994 they have learned to put up with miscommunications during games. This explains why you sometimes see coaches on the sideline using hand signals to communicate plays to their quarterback. However, starting this year it seems that the NFL finally wants to end these sideline technical difficulties. A league-wide change will go into effect this upcoming season when all teams will switch from the problematic analog headsets to new digital headsets. This new digital system was tested in last year’s Pro Bowl and this year’s preseason games, and it will now be put to use in every stadium across the league.

The new headsets were designed by the manufacturer, Nebraska-based Gubser & Schnakenberg LLC, to be easier to use with clear and crisp instantaneous push-to-talk capabilities. This is a big improvement because with the old headsets coaches had to push down a button and wait to get the proper frequency.

Chase Blackburn, a middle linebacker for the New York Giants, recently had the opportunity to try the new digital headsets in a preseason game last week. Blackburn said, “There wasn’t any of the static in there that you got sometimes. With the other system, the coach had to hold down a button for a second or so, and some coaches would start talking just when he held the button down and you miss half of what he said.”

There are still some restrictions for these new and improved headsets. Teams are permitted to have only one player with a headset in their helmet on the field at one time. These helmets are marked with a green circle on the back. All teams on offense elect for a quarterback to wear the headset and most teams on defense choose to communicate with one of their linebackers.

In the game, coaches are only allowed to communicate to their player on the field for the first 25 seconds of the 40-second play clock. The microphones on all of the radio transmitters are programmed to shut off after 25 seconds have run off the play clock. Players and coaches have to rely on hand signals and other forms of communication for the last 15 seconds of the play clock. A league official at each game monitors these headset restrictions.

The NFL seems to have taken a ‘better late than never’ approach to ending these seemingly fixable technical difficulties. As successful as the NFL is as a business, it is odd to think that they waited this long to deal with these headset issues. Anything that could potentially damage the NFL’s product and hurt the fans experience, such as a quarterback not being able to receive a play from his coach, should be top priority.

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