NFL Teams Moving Paper Playbooks Onto iPads

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Photo by khawkins04 via Flickr CC

We've been hearing about some airlines switching all their inflight paper documents, from maps to manuals, onto iPads in an effort to save paper and weight. Now, the NFL is following suit. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have handed out iPads to each of the team's 90 players instead of hefty playbooks. Mashable reports that Buccaneers players will use the tablet computers to store their playbooks, reference game footage and review videos of opponents, which will be a lot easier than handing out thick playbooks and DVDs for game footage to view at home. Everything can be accessed on one device. Plus, there is a way to wipe out all the information on the iPad with one button should the device end up in the wrong hands.

The Buccaneers aren't the only team switching from paper to electronics -- Dan Pompei wrote in the "Sunday Blitz" back in June that "The NFL is finding more and more uses for iPads. The Ravens are giving players their playbooks on iPads this year. No more paper... The Falcons used iPads during pre-draft interviews. In fact, head coach Mike Smith was carrying one around. The team has a program that has a checklist of questions for each player. After all the questions are answered, the program compiles everything in a profile in paragraph form."

CBS Sports writes of the Ravens' use of the iPad in June, "There are some pretty obvious benefits to doing this, once you think about it. For starters, teams who use iPads in place of the typical ream(s) of paper are helping the environment."

Well, not so fast. Just because something is on an electronic device instead of getting put on paper doesn't make it better for the environment.

There is little doubt that this will save a whole lot of paper -- and possibly a whole lot of headache over secrecy -- but will it be greener than paper? As with any switch from the printed word to the iPad, we have questions about how the switch holds up in a lifecycle analysis comparison. While the iPads can save a lot in materials, will they suck up the savings in electricity use? What about the environmental impact of making the iPads in the first place? We all know that Apple has some explaining to do about its supply chain and pollution. The convenience factor is certainly obvious, but what about the environmental factor? Of that, we're still not sure.

That said, the paper savings could be amazing if the entire NFL were to switch. Pete Walsh, head of technology for the Cowboys, Pete Walsh, head of technology for the Cowboyssaid back in February when considering the switch that it could save the team as much as 5,000 pages of paper printouts per game.

Other teams are holding back for fear of the playbook ending up in public hands, and are waiting to see what kind of security measures are in place to keep the information locked up. Another reason is that the screen can't easily be read in sunlight, making it useless on the sidelines. There's still room for paper in the NFL, but it looks like iPads are indeed edging in.

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