NFL to allow Microsoft Surface on sidelines this year

Tossing aside the printed-out pictures that quarterbacks, coaches, and other players have used for many years, the NFL will allow teams to use Microsoft Surface tablets to examine schemes during games this season. They will call the program the “Sideline Viewing System,” which will primarily use Microsoft Surface Pro 2 devices.

You’ll see the system debut Sunday in the Hall of Fame Game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. It is a part of a $400 million partnership between Microsoft and the NFL.

Before wireless printers came around, teams got creative with their quest to get images of the opposing offense and defense to the sideline. Once upon a time, coaches or staff in the press box would take Polaroid photos and send them to the sideline via a long wire (really!).

More recently, it became possible to get the photos printed on the sideline where staff would put them in three-ring binders for players to look at. Still, this has long seemed to be a somewhat archaic solution.

Teams can have 13 Microsoft Surface tablets on the sidelines and 12 in the press box, which should probably be sufficient. At this point, it seems all the tablets will be a heavily modified version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 2. According to Engadget, they will not allow third-party apps and will outfitted with a water and other element resistant case. That case will also be Microsoft’s signature blue with the word “Surface” on it for product placement purposes.

Image credit to Microsoft via Engadget

The NFL and Microsoft have been developing apps for a variety of purposes on the sideline, both for viewing photos but also for medical personnel. Having medical records handy and the potential to perform baseline concussion tests on the sideline could be very handy.

When not in use, they’ll be in climate-controlled containers to avoid testing their ability to deal with the weather too much. It also provides more prominent Microsoft Surface branding for whenever players and coaches walk over to grab one.

Image credit to Microsoft via Engadget

Among the challenges that the NFL and Microsoft think they have figured out is making sure the Wi-Fi connection between the press box and the sideline tablets is secure from cyber-snooping by opponents. They also will not be able to access the Internet, which seems to be out of an abundance of caution (or paranoia) about cheating. It would certainly be more difficult to prevent hacking if they are connected to the Internet, though.

A stranger restriction is that the tablets cannot play video. This is probably due to the fact that teams are not required to switch over from printer and paper, so the NFL is trying to keep from providing such a dramatic competitive advantage to those who adopt the tablets right away. Hopefully, they can loosen this restriction over time as they give more training to the older folks who can’t operate tablets.

A stranger restriction is that the tablets cannot play video.

As another precaution, the NFL will store those tablets in the carts at all times between games, disallowing access by the teams at any point except game day. NFL will own the devices, not the teams.

Even though they won’t be doing anything too abundantly secretive on the devices, they are trying to make sure nothing can be compromised. While medical records wouldn’t provide a great deal of competitive advantage, it is still an important privacy concern.

The active stylus-enabled Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablets will allow the users on the sideline to write and draw on them as they wish, giving it interesting potential for drawing up plays and communicating more effectively about the game.

What do you think about the new “Sideline Viewing System?” Well overdue? Publicity stunt? Unfair to the old guys? Let us know in the comments!