APS News

The Physics of Football Goes Global

A series of local sports segments on the physics of football is finally going global. The series is the brainchild of University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL) professor Tim Gay, who completed 21 three-to-five-minute segments for the National Football League (NFL) this summer. The segments are slated to be aired over the next two years on an international sports program called "Blast!".

Gay first gained national recognition as an authority on football physics three years ago, when he began producing a series of 45-second spots for UNL's HuskerVision during football season [see APS NEWS, January 2000]. "I have a passion for physics and I enjoy teaching all aspects of it," Gay says. "It's the one thing besides football that I really love." For him, the two subjects are closely related.

"Football is a manifestation of real-world physics, and it's something people can relate to." The new NFL spots touch on the same topics as the original series for HuskerVision, employing concrete examples of how physics can be applied to various aspects of football. For instance, a wobbly pass experiences greater air resistance than a perfect spiral. Gay uses this phenomenon to impart knowledge about force, resistance and drag.

The new segments are also longer than the original spots, which were limited to about 60 seconds, enabling Gay to explore some of the basic physics concepts more deeply in the allotted time. Interviews with key players on their understanding of the physics of football add additional interest to the venture. "I'd say about three-quarters of the players were very interested in the subject and really wanted to know how to use that knowledge to improve their game," says Gay, which was gratifying. However, "The other one- quarter were rather belligerent. They didn't like having to think about physics.

Alas, while "Blast!" is shown in 190 different countries, the US isn't one of them, so American fans will have to wait two years for domestic distribution. The show is "essentially a propaganda tool of the NFL to try to win over the hearts of the teeming masses across the ocean and convince them of the merits of American football," Gay jokes.

He also has hopes of one day shooting a documentary with NFL films for the Discovery Channel, and might even get around to writing a book on the physics of football in the distant future. But for now, he's focusing on his laboratory experiments and teaching responsibilities. "Writing a book is a major commitment, so it's not something I want to do immediately."



©1995 - 2016, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette