Does YouTube Threaten to Give Away Secrets of the NFL?

With the preseason halfway done, fantasy leagues drafting, and the Packers and Saints game nearing, NFL fans are relieved and ecstatic about the 2011 football season. Only one game was lost to the lockout, and while training camps were shortened, much of the sport has proceeded with business-as-usual. However the prevalence of social media has made some team more vigilante than ever.

The Miami Dolphins were the first to vocalize concern, but it can’t be long before more teams become concerning with fans posting videos from practice on YouTube. The Dolphins urged fans who attend open practices (as opposed to closed practices, where fans are not allowed to watch), to refrain from taking video and posting it to the web where other teams can see.

The 2011 Dolphins training camp has hit YouTube, raising concerns among the coaches.

“We have rules in place that don’t allow fans to take video of practice,” team spokesman Harvey Greene said. “Those rules exist so that we’re not placed at a competitive disadvantage by having the teams we play see video of any portion of our practices.”

He also added that leaked footage “can negatively impact our ability to prepare for our opponents.”

Greene may be right, but NFL teams are nothing if not cautious about their playbook.

Random practice footage is not to be underestimated. Teams are very careful in the preseason as to what plays they are calling, because every play they run will not be available to every other team in the league.

Every game is on TV, and anything that goes on during that game is recorded forever. Coaches are paranoid, and rightly so, that other coaches will analyze every little play and formation. A fake-punt, wild cat run, or any other trick play needs to be practiced to be realized successfully, but it is often done behind closed doors where no one can see.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots were caught spying on the New York Jets

Just a few years ago the New England Patriots were found guilty of illegally videotaping practices of the New York Jets, and were subsequently villainized for their actions. It is uncertain exactly how much information they were able to glean and to what extent they earned an advantage, but it is certainly more than nothing.

The Patriots debacle is not completely dissimilar from fans video taping practices. Now, there is nothing to suggest those that taped Dolphins practices were trying to hurt the team, but it is possible that the footage would benefit an opponent. It likely doesn’t mean much, but in a sport where a game can be decided on a few key plays and a season can be determined by one or two pivotal games, every edge counts.

Still, if a team really wanted to spy on another team, or if a fan wanted to give the edge to their team, it seems hard to conceive of ways to stop someone who is very determined to video tape a practice. There has been no uniform NFL policy yet, but this may be an issue that starts to creep up in the coming months and years.