By Kristin Guerrero
In the 2011 season, the Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers experimented with using tablets instead of the traditional playbook. This year, most of the NFL will be on some type of tablet technology. There is more to this switch than simply the cool factor. This new technology may change the brains of this brawny sport.
This year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took the league into the high tech generation by creating a multiyear agreement with Microsoft for sideline tablet technology. Instead of using paper playbooks that can be hundreds of pages thick, players and coaches will be using electronic playbooks that can be updated in real time without needing team meetings or special couriers. This is more than simply dashed diagrams on a digital screen. Players now have video footage of the plays available with a swipe of a finger.
There are also algorithmic features offered where the program will analyze a specific athlete’s play history and develop scenarios based on it. The same kind of examination that fans use for fantasy football, the players will be able to use on their own talents but with greater accuracy.
In the old days, the biggest danger to football strategy was the theft of a playbook. A good grifter and a copy machine could ruin a team. With digital information, the fear of hacking is real. The biggest benefit of using electronic playbooks is also its greatest threat. The strategic information is kept on a cloud which is a database that does not reside on the tablet itself. In essence, the information is floating around in cyber-space, and the tablet accesses it as needed. This means that a coach can place off-season instructions on the cloud and players can get it anywhere in the world. Of course, so can anyone else with the technical savvy to break into the platform.
The system that the Broncos used had a security software called COBALT. Under the new agreement, they will be using the Microsoft Surface platform with all of the security bells and whistles that this technology giant has to offer. Because it uses cloud technology, a team manager can pull all of the information down or lock out an at-risk player remotely.
Starting with the Buccaneers, app development has been a key issue. The tablets themselves are little more than a $200 paperweight without the right programming. At the time, NFL regulations did not allow any computer technology within 90 minutes of kickoff. That has changed for the 2014 season, according to TheBigLeague.com. With the sponsorship agreement with Microsoft, the NFL has allowed the Surface tablet on the sidelines, and in the field. New rules from the NFL are expected as the devices become more commonplace. One rule that sports analysts foresee is a prohibition from accessing live television feeds during the game. At this point, the uses and restrictions are up to the speculation of fans and the creativity of coaches.