Rice steps up big time, signs on with virtual reality firm

Rice University has signed a contract with STRIVR Labs to provide its virtual reality technology for the Owl's football program.

Rice joins Auburn, Arkansas, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth and Stanford as schools who are clients of STRIVR Labs for the 2015 season.

STRIVR Labs founder and CEO, Derek Belch, said he is on the verge of adding another university, with a couple more in the works.

"I think it's awesome," Belch said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. "Rice, kind of like Dartmouth, Rice is a school that some people say 'whoa, that's an interesting one.'
"I think it's just great.  The First Conference USA team to take the plunge and do this. It's going to be phenomenal for their players, going to be phenomenal for their coaches and it's going to be phenomenal for recruiting."

Three NFL teams have jumped on board with STRIVR Labs, the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, and Belch said others are giving the company serious consideration.

"To have them differentiated as a university that's willing to take a risk, think a little bit outside the box, you got to give (Rice athletics director) Joe (Karlgaard) a lot of credit," Belch said. "You got to give that coaching staff a lot of credit. It's a really, really big deal."

Belch recently met with Karlgaard, head coach David Bailiff and members of the football staff  to demonstrate his product.

"It's a no-brainer." Karlgaard said. "I think it's one of those things when you consider all the different ways  you can try and make the programs better, this to me is such an obvious way to make our football program better.

"It gives more reps in a low-risk environment to our players, our quarterbacks primarily, but all of our players. I think we are going to be a better football team because of this, and we'll be one of the first six or seven college football programs to partner and we're really excited about that."

Karlgaard said it is important for Rice to take advantage of technology like virtual reality  offered by STRIVR Labs when it makes sense and is cost effective.

"For us, we  really want to be innovative," Karlgaard said. "We want to embrace that. That needs to be part of our ethic moving forward. So for us this is one of the ways we think we can do that.

"I think there's so much that you can do in a college football program to be better. You can think about facilities. You can think about adding staff. You can think about strength programs. You can think about a lot of things that other people are doing. This is something that not a lot of other schools are doing, and that's why I think it's important for us to go ahead and do it."

STRIVR Labs will have its staff on the Rice campus with multiple cameras shooting the Owls football practice.

"They come out with four different cameras and video your practice so you can get it dimensionally, and they're going to start with the quarterback position," said Bailiff.
"You've got to script all the different looks that you want him to see. It can be used all over  the field. The hard part is you've got to get all of that video positionally. So as we get more data we will be able to do it at different positions.

"We are going to start at the quarterback position and try to get a big data bank built up at that position first."

The player views practice content via an Oculus Rift, similar to goggles, that puts the player in the middle of the action.

"It's more reps and it's more reps without the requirement of having on the field practice," Karlgaard said. "So if you think about a quarterback, a starter or a backup, who needs another 20 or 30 reps at the end of the day, they can get that via virtual reality as opposed to having to bring 21 other guys to run a full offense and defense and get that rep in."

Bailiff believes his backup quarterbacks will benefit greatly from the virtual reality technology.

"I think it helps really your younger quarterbacks who aren't getting the amount of reps in practice that your starter is," Bailiff said.

"Then it could really accelerate the learning process as you're developing quarterbacks."

Bailiff is looking forward to seeing how this virtual reality technology will help an Owls football team that has gone to three consecutive bowl games, unprecedented at Rice.

"I think it's incredible," Bailiff said of the technology. I think it's cutting-edge technology in football.

"I appreciate Joe's willingness to find this new technology and try to stay ahead of the curve."