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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

First Published: September 26, 2008-- During Michigan State's victory over Notre Dame last Saturday, the Spartans' coaches noticed that a laptop computer was being used in the Irish's coaching box. Concern was relayed to the referee, who approached Notre Dame's head coach, Charlie Weis. The laptop was removed by halftime.

Notre Dame later offered an innocuous explanation: a student manager was using the laptop to chart the Fighting Irish's defensive alignments, not much different from taking notes in class. Still, computers in the coaching box, located above the field at press-box level, are prohibited in college football.

The episode illustrated the N.C.A.A.'s hesitancy to fully embrace the digital age, even at a time when colleges are at the forefront of technology research and increasingly provide students with free laptops, iPods and iPhones. In many aspects, football keeps technology at arm's length, particularly at a time when it might be most useful -- on game day.

In January, the N.C.A.A. upheld a ruling that coaches are not allowed to send text messages to recruits (though e-mail messages are allowed). The organization has also attempted to limit blogging by reporters during sporting events.

Bylaw 1-4-9a prohibits football coaches from using "motion pictures, any type of film, facsimile machines, videotapes, photographs, writing-transmission machines and computers" to make decisions during a game or between periods.

Even though football coaches may challenge some calls made by the referees, they are not permitted to have television monitors in the coaches' boxes. The monitors would allow assistants to watch a replay and determine whether the referees' decisions appeared correct or incorrect.

With such restrictions, the N.C.A.A. appears more reluctant than professional sports leagues -- and even some high schools -- to welcome the latest available technology.

The N.F.L. also forbids the use of computers during games, but it does allow televisions in the coaching boxes and permits players to look at photographs of offensive and defensive alignments on the sideline. Unlike college football, the N.F.L. also permits quarterbacks to have radio receivers in their helmets to hear instructions from coaches.

Major league baseball players frequently use computers during games to analyze the tendencies of hitters and pitchers.

"Technology is changing all the time; trying to stay ahead from a rules standpoint could be challenging," said Ky Snyder, the athletic director at the University of San Diego and a member of the N.C.A.A. football rules committee. "More and more, it's difficult to keep up with technology. It becomes easier to eliminate it for everything but headsets for coaches."

In the heat of the battle of the Notre Dame-Michigan State game, "you can imagine what our coaches' concerns were," John Lewandowski, a Michigan State spokesman, said in an e-mail message. "Is someone tracking in-game and/or season tendencies? Is someone watching replays?"

The incident led to much snickering and suspicion by Notre Dame critics on the Internet. Weis, after all, formerly coached for the New England Patriots, who were sanctioned last season by the N.F.L. for routinely videotaping opponents' signals on the sideline since 2000.

Michigan State said it accepted Notre Dame's explanation, and the Spartans quickly let the matter drop after their victory over the Irish. Still, the episode reflected a cautious approach to technology in football that is based on several factors, according to coaches and N.C.A.A. officials.

First, football, perhaps more than any sport, maintains an air of tradition at the college level. Custodians of the sport say they want to preserve football's integrity by making sure the outcome is decided by players on the field, and not overly orchestrated by technology.

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