NEW YORK - The Arena Football League's 22d season could be its most innovative.
The 17-team indoor league will get started tonight with New Orleans at Los Angeles as the first of eight games. At two of them - Dallas at Georgia tomorrow, and defending champion San Jose at Chicago on Monday night - a device tentatively dubbed "Shockometer" will be placed on the helmets of several players.
A triangular piece measuring just more than two inches and featuring a little window with green and red indicators will be attached to the helmet. Its purpose is to warn trainers, doctors, coaches and players when someone has taken a dangerous hit, with the indicator turning red. The Soul, which open at home tomorrow against Orlando, will not use the Shockometer this week.
"We wanted to try to develop something that is fast and is an excellent warning system," said Dave Rossi of Schutt Sports, the world's largest provider of football helmets and face guards. "It will not necessarily say this player has a concussion, but that he has sustained a hit that could lead to a concussion. It could give them warrant to say stop and take a closer look."
When the Shockometer debuts on 40 helmets, its findings will be eagerly anticipated not only in the AFL, but also throughout the sport. "What happens in a game is much different than what happens in lab situations," Rossi said.
Eventually, Schutt hopes to develop a product that works for all levels, from the pros down through the colleges, high schools and youth leagues. For now, the experiment will be limited to a few AFL games each week.
So who gets the device during the games?
The positions most susceptible to big hits. Schutt will begin the testing with wide receivers, defensive backs, running backs and linebackers. They also will test some quarterbacks, though, as Rossi notes, the blows passers take are different because often the hardest come from hitting the turf.
The Shockometer will cost about $30 when it becomes available on the market.