Are you ready for some football?! (When are we not?)
Most NFL teams kick off their first preseason game tonight. Although I don’t normally watch much preseason football, I’m actually interested in one new change to the game that is being rolled out this year: Microsoft Surface tablets on the sidelines.
Microsoft announced a multi-year sponsorship of the NFL to (finally) put Surface tablets in the hands of the coaching staff and players on the sidelines during games. The announcement came back in May, but since nobody has taken the field yet I don’t think most people realize that this could fundamentally impact the way coaches manage the game.
How will NFL teams benefit from using tablet technology during game? Here are 3 major areas where tablets could make coaches’ lives easier and help them make better decisions:
- Playbooks. Surface tablets will replace those awkwardly large laminated sheets of paper that coaches carry around. The screens increase the privacy of the playbook and allow for more plays to be scripted without the need for a magnifying glass.
- In-game adjustments. How often do we see quarterbacks and cornerbacks on the sidelines poring over crummy overhead printouts of the opposition’s formations? Surface tablets will deliver these images more quickly, in higher resolution and can be annotated with a finger rather than a pen.
- Situational decision-making. This is by far the most interesting area where Surface tablets will make an impact. The use of analytics in football has increased dramatically over the years, with probabilities of success in critical situations now being made by statistics rather than coaching intuition. Should we go for it on 4th and 2 from our own 45 with 3 minutes on the clock and 2 timeouts? With the touch of a few data inputs on the screen, a Surface can generate a recommendation in a fraction of a second. It should reduce the dreaded “coaches freeze” that has plagued some of the best head coaches over the years in high pressure, late game situations.
There is, of course, one serious downside to Surface tablets being on NFL sidelines during gameday: it will destroy the Monday Morning Quarterback’s credibility. How many times have you thought, “I could make better late game decisions than that coach! I missed my true calling.” Well, now your water cooler critiques can always be refuted with, “Coach was using a Surface—he made the right call.”