Used to be, college recruiters slapped a kid's name on a jersey — and he could almost see himself there. The NCAA won't let you do that anymore. But schools will do whatever it takes to make a good impression. And more and more, they're using the latest technology to do it. Welcome, Oklahomans, to the newest — or at least, the largest — tactical weapon in college football's ever-escalating arms race: the bigger, better scoreboard. Actually, this race started some time ago. A couple years back, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds traveled to the Ozarks with his football team. The Longhorns hadn't been to Fayetteville since the Hogs bolted for the SEC. Things had changed. Where Razorback Stadium once had been an erector set, it had morphed into something spectacular. But what drew Dodds' eye was the mammoth video board. Thirty feet high, 107 feet long. All computerized, with a picture so sharp and clear, it was like the ultimate flat screen in the Man Room of your dreams. They called it Pig Screen TV. When it debuted in 2000, it was billed as the biggest video board in the world. Dodds wanted one of his own. And he got one. Because as Dodds is fond of saying, Texas doesn't keep up with the Joneses. Texas is the Joneses. Fifty-five feet tall, 134 feet long. All digital, with a picture so sharp and clear, it made Arkansas' look like a 19-inch model. They called it Godzillatron. When it debuted last summer, it was billed as the biggest video board in the world. Godzillatron looms so large, you half-expect Mothra to fly in and meet her death. Seriously, some worried the scoreboard might distract southbound traffic on nearby I-35. Yeah, it's that big. So today, OU's Board of Regents will vote to approve $10.3 million worth of new and improved scoreboards to Owen Field and Lloyd Noble Center. Almost half will go toward a new south end-zone scoreboard. It won't be as large as Godzillatron, which cost $8 million all by its lonestarsome. But it will be plenty big, something like the size of the Pig Screen TV. And it'll have the newest and best technology available. In Stillwater, they're planning four smaller (but not small) boards with the same technology. Which means by 2008, OU and OSU will join Texas and Texas A&M ("12th Man TV”, 54-by-74) and Nebraska (no nickname, 33-by-117) and others in going digital. Officials say it's about enhancing fans' gameday experience. And the technology sure ought to do that — especially at Owen Field, where the current video board might as well have rabbit ears. But let's be honest. This is about the arms race. Football powers have long bragged to recruits about Nautilus machines and mahogany lockers and indoor practice facilities. Still do. But the new frontier is video boards — high-tech, high-priced and "Hi kid, can you picture yourself running downfield on that big screen?” "We've heard that before,” says Mark Steinkamp, a spokesman for Daktronics, the South Dakota-based company that built Godzillatron and is expected to build OU's new boards. "They want to keep up. Their competition is not only on the field, but in the rest of the stadium.” Consider Arkansas' standard procedure. As recruits dine at the stadium club in the south end zone, the Pig Screen in the north end zone shows Hog highlights. It might as well be 12 feet away, not 120 yards. "It's certainly impressive,” Arkansas spokesman Kevin Trainor says. "It gives them a glimpse of what the gameday atmosphere is like.” Maybe you're thinking players don't notice such things. Think again. Eleven years back, I watched Florida whip Arkansas in the SEC championship game. The rout was sealed when a defensive back stole an option pitch and took it 95 yards. He savored the last few steps. And afterward, I overheard a teammate ask how Ben Hanks knew he had enough room to slow down. "I was running right at myself,” said Hanks. "I could see it all on the big screen.” And believe me, that big screen in the Georgia Dome end zone was nothing like Godzillatron. By the way, when the Longhorns first saw their new toy, they asked if they could hook up the Xbox. Who needs a name on a jersey?
Scoring the boardsThese days, it seems the board is almost as important as the score. Oklahoma's new scoreboard and big-screen video display will be state-of-the-art, but it won't be the biggest around. Godzillatron University of Texas, Austin •Built: 2005 •Cost: $8 million •Dimensions: 134 feet wide by 55 feet tall •What's on it: Approximately 50 percent of the screen is used for advertising, with a small strip at the bottom for typical scoreboard features (time, score, down and distance, etc.). Pig Screen TV University of Arkansas, Fayetteville •Built: 2000 •Cost: $3.75 million •Dimensions: 107 feet wide by 30 feet tall •What's on it: Strictly game video. One-fourth of the screen displays an advertisement during replays. Other scoreboard features are displayed on 30-foot-by-30-foot boards flanking the video screen. 12th Man TV Texas A&M, College Station • Built: 2006 •Cost: $5 million •Dimensions: 74 feet wide by 54 feet tall •What's on it: Game footage and scoreboard information. Advertising appears during down time in games. By Scott Wright