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Post Tablets on the way to NFL sidelines – will college be far behind?

Monday February 7, 2011

This is a headline we’ve been waiting to read for a while: NFL teams may replace playbooks with iPads. It’s not just showy hi-tech bling. The tablets can replace volumes of paper documents, make use of and integrate multimedia, and aid real-time decision making for coaches.

So why not college? When we talked about this a couple of years ago, the context was the end of the road for the aw-shucks coach who played dumb and could get away with pretending that he had no idea what this computer stuff was. Some didn’t even have to pretend. Coaches know now that they must understand, if not use, all of the technology available to them from cell phones to social networking. A few years ago it was just a competitive advantage; any coach not embracing this basic level of technology now should be replaced.

We’re already seeing the technology spreading into several areas of the Georgia program. The recent unveiling of Georgia’s Butts-Mehre expansion was an Apple fanboy’s dream. iPads became an important part of the recruiting process over the past year. The “Dream Team” pitch was bolstered by custom presentations and videos that made good use of the tablets.

It only makes sense that the technology should find its into game management and preparation. There’s no reason for Georgia’s state-of-the-art video technology to be constrained to the film room. Why shouldn’t a coach on the recruiting trail be able to fire up his tablet during some downtime and request to look at all plays run by the next opponent on 3rd and 7+? So much of recruiting is contact management. Did you remember a birthday, make the right number of contacts allowed by compliance, or meet all of the prospects from the high school you’re visiting? There are opportunities for technology there too. Of course this discussion isn’t limited to tablets – good old laptops and netbooks can work just fine in this environment. But forward-thinking programs can invest in custom applications to make full use of the tablet’s capabilities.

The next step logically is on to the field and in the boxes upstairs. Scouting reports, game plans, even the play menu could be replaced by a tablet and customized for each coach and staffer on the sideline.

Security remains a big issue – both in terms of the networks used to connect these devices and also the devices themselves. If “spying” on a guy making hand signals in front of tens of thousands of spectators is already taboo and a big deal, how scandalous would this kind of cyber-warfare be? We can even add fans to the mix now – whether it’s overriding your coach’s tablet to flash “GO FOR IT” or launching a denial of service attack to shut down a stadium’s network, the security concerns aren’t just limited to the other team.

One concern remains somewhat valid in the college game: “an onslaught of technology might give richer colleges a competitive advantage.” Few schools can put into place the kind of system Georgia just introduced. But certainly these larger programs already enjoy other advantages by virtue of the size of their budgets. Indoor facilities, state-of-the-art weight rooms and staff, access to aircraft for recruiting, academic resources – these are all things that larger programs can provide that many D-1 schools can’t. Those smaller programs struggle to operate much more than a baseline program, and even then it’s often done in the red. It’s true that adding rapid adoption of mobile technology to the list would only add to the burden of keeping up, but that list is already pages long. For smart smaller programs, the adoption of this technology could even be a cost-saving measure in both game preparation and recruiting.

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  • We are going to give 60 players their own IPads for them to study the playbook and films at home so UGA is on the cutting edge. I just hope the Nerds don’t hack the heck out of our computers.