Pac 10 embraces digital game file exchange for coaches
By Carolyn Braff
In the high-speed, Internet-based realm of sports analysis, the procedures for sharing game film are still remarkably old-fashioned. Most college programs send game tapes by hand, via courier service. However, The PAC-10 conference, under the leadership of UCLA Video Operations Director Ken Norris, is leading the charge on replacing those traditional delivery methods with Internet exchanges that will dramatically reduce the time, cost, and hassle of the process.
The system currently in place for exchanging game tapes is costly and inefficient. Schools contract a courier service and the edited game film is often personally brought to the airport to be shipped. The entire process, from editing and copying the film to the time the opponent receives the package, takes anywhere from 24-36 hours, which cuts considerably into a coach’s weekly preparation time.
And these shipments are certainly not cheap. Norris explained that the average shipment costs anywhere from $150-$250, depending on the size and weight of the package, and any post-flight ground travel. Schools in the PAC-10 send a minimum of two shipments each week, one to the current week’s opponent and one to the following week’s opponent, often spending upwards of $500 weekly on shipping alone.
Norris’ system provides a viable alternative to this exchange circus: simply send the game film as a digital file over the Internet. Unfortunately, the process is not quite that simple. In order for the digital files to be shared efficiently, each school’s athletic department must work with its department of information technology to ensure access to a high-speed network that can handle the transfers.
“Everybody thinks they have a great connection and undoubtedly they have problems,” Norris says.
A taste of Abilene
Most college campuses are on the Abilene network, an Internet2 10-gigabit-per-second backbone network open to universities and research labs nationwide. Any higher education institution that is an Internet2 member is eligible to use the Abilene network, which provides the infrastructure necessary for efficient file sharing between university athletic programs. Now the programs need to find a way to work with one another.
“Interoperability is a big word that we’ve shared at our conference for the last two years,” Norris says. “We’re in the process of standardizing our file format for each of our vendors to provide to each of our schools. This has been a tremendous turn of events within the past two months.”
The PAC-10 is using a central server at UCLA for its file exchanges. With the gigabyte connections UCLA is running, PAC-10 schools can currently download a 20 GB file in less than eight minutes. Norris is looking to improve their connection and download speeds. “Our bottleneck right now is our hard drives,” Norris explained.
Norris says other approaches, like peer-to-peer models being used by the Big 10 and Big 12, aren’t ideal for the Pac 10 because the speed of digital transfer is only as fast as the slowest connection. “Some schools in the Pac-10 only have a 100 mbps connection,” he says. “That would restrict the universities with a Gb connection.”
The biggest challenge, he adds, is getting everybody to understand that whether or not they believe they have a great connection to the network, they have to understand where the bottleneck can occur. “It’s getting the IT departments to understand what we’re doing,” he says. “They need to receive us.”
Norris says video coordinators need to educate collegiate IT departments to be more willing and open to receiving our project. “Right now, some IT departments have refused to endorse our project,” he says. “With their help on Internet2, we could help justify their need to increase the bandwidth within their departments, which would ultimately help to create a congestion-free network.”
Norris expects to have the PAC-10 Internet sharing system fully operational for UCLA’s first kick-off of the 2006 season. The program was piloted last year at Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA, USC, and Washington, and was successfully tested at every school in the PAC-10. There is still work to be done at Arizona State, Oregon State, and Washington State Universities, but all of the schools are on track to have the system up and running come September.
Each school in the PAC-10 has agreed to pay a $6,000 fee in order to have enough server space to store two years worth of football and miscellaneous film, which will allow sports like volleyball and basketball to also begin sharing.
Conferences not willing to put up the money to build server infrastructure have an alternative in services like ezXchanges and Game TapeXchange, which allow users to upload their game film and download that of their opponents without leaving the office.
Game TapeXchange supplies encoding software that allows its clients in the college and professional markets to upload digital video files to the company server and download game film from other schools. The exchange megaserver has no maximum storage capacity, according to national director of sales Dwayne Richard.
EzXchanges offers a similar Web-based service to collegiate and high school clients that transfers all video in MPEG-4 format. The system also has a built-in security program that allows coaches to authorize which teams can see their game film.
Download and upload times for both services are contingent upon the user’s connection speed and file format.
Game TapeXchange charges for the season what some schools spend weekly to exchange football game film, between $445 and $545, depending on the number of camera angles requested. Both companies vary their prices for hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and volleyball according to season length and conference protocol.
Whether colleges choose to use their own servers or contract a service to exchange game film, coaches are beginning to enjoy the advantage of Internet exchanges.
“It removes a lot of the uncertainties and also it’s a lot more civilized,” explains Daniel Kinoy, video technologist at ezXchanges. “Coaches don’t wind up having to drive somewhere and meet some guy halfway at a highway rest stop.”