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Tablet computers are a game-changer in professional sports

Tampa Bay Bucs tackle Donald Penn reviews game footage on his iPad, which has replaced the team's standard playbook.
Tampa Bay Bucs tackle Donald Penn reviews game footage on his iPad, which has replaced the team's standard playbook.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tampa Bay Bucs are one of two NFL teams using iPads instead of playbooks
  • The NFL restricts the use of electronic devices on game day
  • Players say the tablets have revolutionized the way they prepare and practice
  • Mobile technology is also revolutionizing other pro sports, including baseball

Tampa, Florida (CNN) -- In the halls of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice facility, players can be seen carrying iPads everywhere they go.

They're not goofing off or taking a break, it's part of their weekly football practice.

The Bucs are one of two NFL teams, along with the Baltimore Ravens, that have purchased iPads for their players and coaches to use instead of the standard playbook. Baseball and hockey leagues have also taken notice of the advantages of mobile technology.

Bucs players no longer need to haul paper-filled binders and stacks of DVDs from practice to home in order to continually prepare for game day.

While there are still NFL restrictions on how computer tablets can be used, these devices are slowly starting to change the way professional teams operate, offering high-quality video and Internet connectivity almost anywhere.

Just before this season, the Bucs moved the team's playbook , a huge three-ring binder, into a custom app on the tablet. It plays NFL films used to study upcoming opponents, says general manager Mark Dominik.

"It was a smashing success for our players. They loved it," he said.

The team printed paper playbooks as a backup this year, but Dominik says next year, "We're going green" -- no paper playbooks.

The Bucs first developed a customized application on the iPad as a draft tool to allow coaches to watch college games while evaluating players involved in the draft, said head coach Raheem Morris.

"I was able to watch college players on the iPad while in the car or in the hotel," Morris said.

After the success of the draft tool app, the Bucs' owners approved the purchase of 150 iPads and 90 were handed out to players and coaches. They were loaded with the Bucs' newly updated custom application.

"Everyone loves this, man. It's very helpful," said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

But don't expect to see the tablets on the sidelines of games, in locker rooms or in the coaches' booth. NFL rules prohibit the use of any electronic computers, tablets or recording devices within 90 minutes of kickoff.

"Polaroid-type cameras" are the only device allowed to be used during a game, according to NFL rules. The cameras capture high angle still images of the field, which are printed on paper near the players' benches on the field, giving the teams a different view of what their opponents are doing on the field.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy says the league is "strategically holding back" on technology advancements.

"We try to keep as much of the human element in the game," he said. In addition, he said, the NFL's strategy is to keep competition fair among all the teams.

Even if the NFL allowed computer tablets on the sidelines, it's unlikely that Apple's iPads would be used, because the league's major sponsor Motorola has a tablet, the Xoom.

Motorola tablets not selling

With 11 million iPads recently sold, according to Apple's financial report, app developers are scrambling to get the attention of young professional athletes who are accustomed to Apple products.

One of those developers, Bloomberg Sports, decided to give iPads to professional baseball players so they could review its newly developed app, "Pitch Review," created exclusively for professional baseball players.

"We didn't have to," said Bill Squadron with Bloomberg Sports. "Because every player had an iPad."

The front office management of 19 out of 30 baseball clubs have adopted apps like Pitch Review, which features statistics, averages and video clips that can be customized.

The National Hockey League is also utilizing mobile technology, allowing its live games to be broadcast through paid subscriptions to NHL GameCenter Live on mobile devices including tablets.

But not everyone in professional sports has immediately embraced the technology.

"Our dinosaurs have been our coaches," said Dominik. "(They) are older and used to the more traditional way of doing things."

The Bucs' linebacker coach, Joe Baker, admitted he was "a little skeptical" when the team started using iPads. His concerns were rooted in a past experience, when another team he worked for started using laptops. At the time, he said, it was a poor integration of technology and the team's needs. Today, he admits things have changed.

"To have all that information at your fingertips accessible and convenient," said Baker. "It's a godsend."

Baker and the other coaches said they believe the iPads have helped improved their players' study habits. Morris points out that the players' motivation was already there, the technology has just helped them capitalize on it.

"At the end of the day these guys want to be great, so they want to study their opponents," said Morris. "So they have the ability to be (great) and that's the desire that makes them watch it."

Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes says the easy access to watching plays has created a kind of addiction.

"I use it on a daily basis, sometimes my girlfriend gets mad at me because I'm so into it," Hayes said. "I'm watching films all day."

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