The NFL’s Stance on Technology
In the NFL, Football Operations faces the difficult challenge of innovating, while respecting and preserving game traditions and maintaining the integrity and competitive equity of the game. Throughout the history of the NFL, there have been instances where a team has implemented a new technology, operating in the gray area of the rulebook, to gain a slight competitive advantage. As these instances have arisen, the NFL has condoned or condemned the use of the technology by creating rules to either ban the specific technology or to implement the technology league wide. Michelle Mckenna Doyle, NFL Chief Information Officer recently spoke regarding the approval and implementation of new technology saying, “I try to make sure it is not tech for tech’s sake, its tech to make the game better, safer, and move faster.” This approach has been used throughout the history of the NFL which has lead to the approval and implementation of many technologies that coaches and fans take for granted in the sport today including televised games, coach to player communication, instant replay, and Microsoft Surface tablets.
NFL NextGen Stats:
The NFL credits television for enabling many of the league’s largest advancements, and for generating increased exposure to the NFL which has lead to increased popularity and profitability for the league. TV paved the way for instant replay which was embraced by coaches, players, fans, and the league office. With instant replay fans are able to re-watch a play during a game, resulting in a better viewing experience. Coaches and players use instant replay while watch game film. It allows the teams to make better adjustments week to week, and it allows teams to better prepare for their upcoming opponent. The league office uses instant replay to improve NFL officiating, providing better training and a higher league standard for official’s performances. TV has also lead owner’s to build big screens and jumbotrons in stadiums to compete with the viewing experience of TV.
In-Game Electronic Communication
In 1956, Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown was the first to attempt to use electronic coach to player communications during a game. He placed a radio receiver inside his Cleveland Brown’s quarterback’s helmet so that plays and substitutions could be relayed directly to the quarterback. Later in the game the transmitter was identified behind a light post. There was no rule against the transmitter, and in the three games that followed other teams began to attempt to develop their own versions of the device. The NFL banned the device after the fourth game because teams were competing on the basis of technology, not purely football. In 1994 the NFL reinstated the use of electronic coach to player communications from a coach to a designated offensive player across the league in the hopes of reducing time used on the play clock and reducing the amount of time outs taken. Their effort was successful and the speed of the game was improved. In 2008 communication between a coach and a designated defensive player was approved to increase fairness. In 2014 all on field officials were provided headsets to that they could communicate wirelessly and make calls more accurately and more quickly.
The Green Sticker Identifies the Helmet with Electronic Communication Capabilities:
Instant replay has been approved and removed a number of times throughout the history of the NFL, and most recently, it was approved in 1999. The development of HD TVs and freeze frame technology, has lead to an increased use of cameras from all angles of the field. This allows the league to make calls more accurately than ever before. As a result the league has been able to expand the types of plays that get automatically reviewed as well as the types of plays that can be challenged by a coach. One of the newest improvements of this system has been the implementation of the end zone pylon cameras which give officials a better view across the goal line to see if the ball has crossed the plane of the end zone before the player is down.
NFL Pylon Cameras:
Microsoft Surface Tablets
Recently the NFL has partnered with Microsoft to provide specially designed Microsoft Surface tablets for the sidelines. The tablets allow coaches to get an instant overhead view of formations on the field, and coaches are able access previous plays from the game. The tablets allow coaches to zoom in on, annotate, favorite, and draw on plays as they progress throughout the game. The tablets are specially designed to withstand heat, cold, rain, and glare. They also hold a charge throughout the game and they block access to the internet and apps that would otherwise provide a team with an unfair competitive advantage. The tablets are designed to withstand being dropped, and they provide trainers access to important medical tools and information like concussion tests, injury diagnostic tools and medical records.
Screenshot of the Microsoft Surface Tablet:
Belichick Spiking the Tablet:
Shoulder Pad RFID Chips
This year the NFL has worked with Zebra Technologies to place two RFID chips in the shoulder pads of each player. These chips communicate location data to the 20 electronic receivers that are placed throughout the stadium. The chips also contain an accelerometer to track the speed of the players. For now the chips are just collecting data and providing entertaining player statistics like the top speed a player reaches on a kick return, but in the future this technology could transform the way a coach plans for a game and scouts potential talent.
Zebra Shoulder Pad RFID Chip:
What is Next?
Zebra chips also have the capability to monitor biometric data such as dehydration and elevated heart rate, however this technology has not been approved by the NFL for game use and it is only beginning to be used during practices. In the future it is likely that the NFL will look for ways implement this and concussion monitoring devices in games to improve player safety. The NFL also looks to insert a chip into the game ball in the future. This would provide the NFL with more data, and it would allow for the development of an electronic down marker system that uses the chip and lasers instead of the traditional 10 yard chain. The NFL has stated that the technology for this has not arrived yet because the chips that would be put in the game balls are not small enough. Currently, quarterbacks are able to tell a slight weight difference between a ball with the chip and a ball without the chip, and that is enough for the NFL to delay the change until the technology improves.