The Miami Dolphins have addressed a problem that either has affected, or likely will affect, every NFL team at some point this preseason: Their fans are taking digital videos of open practices and posting the files on YouTube for all to see.
"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 … I'm sure that our fans understand that concern and I'm confident they will follow our camp guidelines to prevent that from happening again,"
Greene added that when fans post video of practices, it "can negatively impact our ability to prepare for our opponents."
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind here is the New England Patriots 'SpyGate' scandal — in 2007, Pats head coach Bill Belichick was found to be in violation of the NFL's rules against videotaping the practices of other teams. The Pats were docked their 2008 first-round pick, fined half a million dollars, and Belichick was fined $250,000 for video hi-jinks that apparently went back multiple years.
Teams obviously know the value of schematic secrecy in practice, but it's hard to know how to curb fan violations. Having watched just about every Seahawks practice over the last year as a member of the media, I can tell you that those people covering the team are fully aware that writing about specific plays or schemes in their articles and blogs will net them a less-than-pleasant conversation with someone on the team's P.R. staff — and rightly so. If the Seahawks want to switch to a bunch of 2-4-5 fronts, or install the moving cow defense, or put two quarterbacks in the backfield at the same time (something the Broncos should think about, by the way), they need to know that they can do so without those things being made public.
That said, it's hard to know how teams are going to handle this. It's possible for digital cameras smaller than a deck of cards to shoot HD video, and unless team security wants to go all Stevie Williams and berate anyone operating a camera, this is going to happen in any open practice where people are allowed to take pictures. And even if you take away the cameras, or force people not to use them, there's still the matter of fans tweeting out what they see without being fully aware of the potential effects of their actions.
The Dolphins and other teams will have to find new ways to balance the desire to get their fans (especially their season-ticket holders) close to the team in practice situations and the inevitable fallout that comes with increased exposure in an age of incredible technology.
Step one would seem to be: Don't assume your fans are aware of the restrictions regarding video and the use of video. They're probably not trying to hurt the team they care about when they throw videos up on YouTube; it's more a "Hey, look what I saw!" thing in the excitement surrounding a new season. Most of them would likely stop doing it if they were made aware that there are restrictions against the practice.