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N.C.A.A. Is Slower to Embrace Technology
source: New York Times

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
In the coaches' box, where college football rules prohibit computers and even television monitors, coaches are left to watch and wonder.
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press/source: New York Times

"It's 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."

Second, there appears to be a fear of technology by some and a lack of understanding of its capabilities, said Mike Bellotti, the football coach at the University of Oregon and the chairman of the N.C.A.A. football rules committee. "Coaches are fairly set-in-their-ways type people," Bellotti said.

Third, limits on technology are viewed as a way to restrain costs that are spiraling -- some say out of control -- as coaches receive million-dollar salaries and many athletic budgets bleed red ink.

Rules are written to seek fairness across the board -- from Division I to Division III -- and 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.

"The issue of technology is a cost-containment issue," said Ron Prince, the football coach at Kansas State and a member of the rules committee. "Budgets are such a big deal at all levels."

Halpin, the N.C.A.A. administrator, said the rules committee's biggest challenge was handling inventions that have a direct impact on games. The organization seeks a balance, he said, wanting to maintain a level playing field while not ignoring technology.

For instance, the N.C.A.A. allows colleges to use video conferences to speak with football recruits when head coaches are not permitted to visit them in person in the spring. Coaches at Alabama, Louisiana State and Tennessee are among those who have used Web-cam visits with high school athletes.

Bellotti, the Oregon coach, said he planned to bring the technology issue up for discussion at the next N.C.A.A. rules committee meeting.

Colleges with powerful football programs find themselves in a conflicting position. Most, or all, of them have sophisticated digital computer systems worth $300,000 to $1 million. Coaches spend countless hours each week using the systems to scout their opponents and install their game plans, but at a time when they might be urgently needed -- during games -- they are forbidden.

That leaves coaches carrying computer printouts and pie-charts into the coaching box, but not laptops, as they try to predict what plays an opponent will run on first-and-10 or third-and-5. At some point, the distinction between what is written on a piece of paper and stored in a computer becomes blurred, Bellotti said.

"What's the difference?" he said.

He added: "I'm sure as we continue along this technological path, there will be some movement to allow some technology. Things will come up. Why donít we use it? We use it in other aspects of our lives and in our offices."

The hurdle to overcome, Bellotti said, is that "one-third of schools can afford to buy laptops and two-thirds won't want the expense." He added: "It becomes a perceived advantage. That's generally where the rules fall."

Meanwhile, some of the most cutting-edge use of football technology is being found at the high school level.

Eleven high schools in Nebraska, Texas and Kansas are using laptops in coaches boxes, capturing live video and showing it to players at halftime, using a system invented by Agile Sports Technologies, according to its chief executive, David Graff. A more restricted use of the company's digital video system, called Huddle, is employed by the Jets and the University of Nebraska.