Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The twilight of the Luddite coaches

Friday April 17, 2009

For years whenever the topic of the Internet and forms of communication more advanced than a rotary phone came up, coaches frequently reverted to playing the dumb jock.

Gawrsh, I cain’t even program a VCR…what’s this"e-mail" thing ?

To be fair, this kind of response was mostly a defense mechanism and usually not exactly honest. If a coach admitted he surfed the message boards or read e-mail, he might be pressured to validate and respond to some of the ridiculous criticism and rumors that float out here. Every message board hero would think he had a direct line to the ol’ coach. Most coaches were at least briefed about the online chatter.

So, yeah, it’s kind of strange (and amusing) to see the coaches follow each other into the world of tweets and pokes. A decade ago these guys would be cracking jokes about not being able to turn a computer on.

Of course in reality many of these Twitter pages and Facebook accounts are manned by some intern or other ghostwriter. I don’t know and don’t really care if Mark Richt even knows how to sign on to Twitter or post something on his blog. The change is that coaches are at least starting to become more open about lending their names if not outright participating in the online world. The transition of cutting-edge technology and social networks from something used by fans on the fringe to a strategic opportunity to build the program is just about complete.

And why not? The costs are negligable. It’s where your recruits and an increasing number of your fans with disposable income are. It’s to the point now that if your program and coach doesn’t have some sort of online presence beyond the cookie-cutter official Web site, you’re at a competitive disadvantage.

Now it’s time for the NCAA and the sideline to catch up. The New York Times had a great piece last fall outlining the organization’s resistance to certain technologies, especially those which might give a team an advantage during the game. Laptops upstairs in the box are verboten. Texting with prospects is outlawed. The reasoning ranged from the absurd…

"(A game is) like going into a test," said Ty Halpin, the N.C.A.A.’s associate director of playing rules administration. We don’t let you bring in a computer and an iPod when you take an exam."

…to the practical…

There is a concern that an onslaught of technology might give richer colleges a competitive advantage over schools that cannot afford the latest equipment, further driving a wedge between the haves and have-nots in the sport.

I definitely understand that concern. The software and hardware for instant video analysis and real-time collaboration isn’t cheap. At the same time, an initial investment in technology can give smaller programs tools and expert systems which might make their lower-paid and less-experienced coaches more effective and competitive against the big programs. It’s not like the big programs don’t already leverage technology to their own advantage; as the Times points out, most big programs have advanced video systems that help them with preparation. Teams can bring to the box unlimited analysis, charts, and scouting on paper (something that’s also typically not allowed in an exam, Mr. Halpin), but they can’t bring the same information in on a laptop.

Mike Bellotti told the Times he planned to raise the issue in front of the rules committee, but it seems as if no action was taken during the committee’s February meeting.

How long will it be before a tablet PC replaces the clipboard on our college football and basketball sidelines?

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