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Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Big changes coming on NFL game days

By Mike Sando

Current NFL rules prevent teams from using computers during games to assist with calling plays or anything else related to the game on the field. That will change in 2014 under a new partnership between the NFL and Microsoft.

Much of the NFL's news release on the partnership includes information about real-time fantasy football applications through Xbox gaming systems.

This looks like a game-changer on the field as well. Computers should allow teams to more reliably consider the percentages in light of team tendencies, opponent tendencies, historical precedent or whatever information a team could find valuable. This should be especially true as younger coaches replace older ones.

"Coaches and players will soon have access to a variety of cutting-edge Microsoft solutions, including Surface tablets to enhance on-field communications, photo viewing and play calling," the release says. "Microsoft and the NFL envision a sideline of the future with players reviewing in-game photos from different camera angles directly from the sideline and head coaches calling plays off connected Surface tablets instead of today's static paper products. ... NFL coaches, players and other personnel will have the technology they need to improve decision-making and on-field performance."

I'll be very eager to learn specifics regarding what limitations, if any, the NFL plans to impose as technology becomes a bigger part of the game-day experience.

The changes announced Tuesday could mark a starting point for more coaches at least considering the percentages associated with their decisions. Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats explained one aspect of the thinking when asked during the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference about the Baltimore Ravens' decision to try a fake field goal on fourth-and-9 in the Super Bowl.

Teams currently chart plays by dozens of parameters, indexing them to video to facilitate in-week preparation. The ability to access that information more quickly during games would seem to offer an advantage.