Behind The ScenesCollege GameDay

Sport Science and Nightline get to the heart of the matter with Tom Izzo

Sport Science's John Brenkus (l) talks with Michigan State's Tom Izzo (r), as the coach swallows an ingestible thermometer to measure his core body temperature.
Sport Science’s John Brenkus (l) talks with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (r) as the coach swallows an ingestible thermometer to measure his core body temperature.

Beginning in late January, the Michigan State men’s basketball team began giving its fans – and its head coach, Tom Izzo – more heart-pounding moments than they would’ve liked. In their final 12 regular-season games, the Spartans lost seven contests by an average of 5.4 points (including two by two points).

So it was somewhat fitting when, for MSU’s March 1 home game against Illinois, a crew from ESPN’s Emmy-winning Sport Science wired Izzo with a bio-harness that measures respiratory rate, heart rate and skin temperature; an accelerometer to track his motion; and even had him swallow an ingestible thermometer to measure his core body temperature.

It was all done so that ESPN, in conjunction with ABC News’ Nightline, could examine the impact of in-game stress on high-profile coaches. The results will debut on ESPN’s College GameDay (Saturday, noon ET) with a longer version airing on Tuesday’s Nightline (12:35 a.m.).

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“It’s something that hasn’t been talked about – there are quite a lot of incidents with players on the field, but what happens with the coaches and even the fans away from the courts and fields?” Nightline Executive Producer Almin Karamehmedovic said. “We’re excellent news storytellers, and ESPN is excellent at sports storytelling, so by combining the brands, it became more than a news or sports story, but a comprehensive project.”

“We were excited about the opportunity – while co-producing a feature with ABC is not unprecedented, it is rare, but I knew [coordinating producer] Ursula Pfeiffer and the Feature Unit would embrace it,” said ESPN Vice President, Newsgathering Craig Lazarus. “This is another example of ESPN working with ABC to best serve fans: We regularly provide features to Good Morning America and World News; ESPN analysts appear in ABC programming; we partnered with them in Sochi [for the 2014 Winter Olympics]; and they are currently providing us coverage from the [Oscar] Pistorius trial.”

Even during seasons with less excruciating losses, Izzo is the epitome of intensity on the sideline.

“College basketball coaches always appear to be among the most stressed out figures in all of sports, so we were extremely interested in what kind of physiological effects would be generated courtside during such an emotional roller coaster,” said Sport Science host John Brenkus. “We thought an intense guy like Tom might even possibly have a dangerously high heart rate.”

However, even in the midst of a 53-46 loss to the Illini – during which it was calculated that Izzo walked more than 1.8 miles – the eight-time National Coach of the Year, who has six Final Fours and a national title, proved to be fit as a fiddle.

“We learned that while, yes, Tom’s heart rate did get very elevated during the most intense parts of the game – reaching 135 beats per minute – the great news is that he returned to his baseline heart and respiratory rates extremely quickly,” Brenkus said. “All his walking is a good way to deal with the stresses of the job, and the data shows that Tom is in fine shape.”

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