NFL teams may replace playbooks with iPads

The head of tech for the Dallas Cowboys tells CNET his team and at least a "couple" others are thinking of abandoning paper playbooks and game-day printouts of plays.

NFL teams like the Dallas Cowboys may one day abandon their paper playbooks for tablets. Apple

ARLINGTON, Texas--NFL teams including the Dallas Cowboys could soon be abandoning their traditional paper playbooks and game-day printouts of plays in favor of iPads or other tablets.

Pete Walsh, head of technology for the Cowboys, said his team and at least a "couple" of others are currently considering abandoning their playbooks in favor of iPads, a move they feel could save them as much as 5,000 pages of paper printouts per game.

Walsh explained this potential philosophical and technological shift to CNET during a discussion about Cowboys Stadium technology at Super Bowl Media Day here Tuesday. The stadium will play host on Sunday to Super Bowl XLV between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.

For tech-friendly sports fans, it's an appealing image--coaches and players sitting on the sidelines of the giant Cowboys Stadium, iPads in hand, studying likely plays for the next few series, or sifting through overhead photos of the last plays in order to assess their performance, or that of their opponents.

Daniel Terdiman/CNET

In a lot of ways, this is exactly what tablets are meant for: easy access to data via wireless networks, high-quality photos, and portability. And from a coach's or player's perspective, imagine being able to quickly sort through a large set of plays, look at them in a stylish graphical presentation, see animations of them in action, and more--or to download a photo of the last play seconds later.

Still, it's also a bit difficult to imagine old-school NFL coaches agreeing to carry around a shiny gadget like an iPad instead of their trusty playbooks--or reviewing glossy color photos on the 9.7-inch screen rather than shuffling through paper printouts of the last passing play. One can imagine such coaches agreeing to hand over their playbooks only through tightly gritted teeth.

But Walsh suggested that this migration could well be coming, though he didn't say how long it would be before we see football pros stalking the sidelines with tablets.

On the up side, there's the potential savings of paper. For another, Walsh indicated, there's the feeling that if a tablet could be remotely wiped, it means that a lost iPad wouldn't necessarily result in all the plays for the next Sunday's game potentially falling into enemy hands.

However, Walsh said that one delay in the implementation of the shift is that the iPad isn't seen in the NFL's technology circles as being secure enough yet. That's why tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or others running the Android operating system could end up being selected if teams, or the NFL, decide they're more secure.

Walsh did not say which other teams were considering the move to tablets, but did say that "right now, all my counterparts [in the] league are discussing" the issue of how to secure the devices. Presumably, there's concern about whether hostile parties could break into them wirelessly and about whether a lost tablet could be remotely locked down or erased.

For Walsh, who reports to famous Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the mandate is clearly to protect the Cowboys' intellectual property, and so he seemed prepared to wait to make the switch until he and his peers feel that devices like the iPad or its competitors can be used without causing anyone to lose sleep over how they might expose a team's plans.

"I've got that responsibility to the Jones family," Walsh said, "to make sure those [football] assets don't get out there."

 

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