Boston University soccer coach Neil Roberts credits videotape study with helping his 1985 team reach the NCAA quarterfinals. While reviewing tapes when he got the job at the start of that season, Roberts noticed BU's tendency to give up the ball—and goals—in its defensive zone. "I broke down those films and showed them to the players," said Roberts. "We went from 36 of those goals to 11."
There's no doubt that videotape has had a profound effect on scouting the opposition. VCRs are rarely silent in stadiums and arenas equipped with satellite dishes, while some teams hire private citizens, as the Utah Jazz have done with Richard Smith of Salt Lake City, to tape their games. Thus, baseball and basketball teams acquire instant libraries on their opponents. As an added bonus, the dish can provide scoreboard highlights.
Even without a satellite dish, there is no shortage of games available for videotaping if a coach is enterprising enough to set up a VCR network. Before Kansas plays SMU, for example, assistant Jayhawk coach Mark Freidinger will make sure that alumni in Dallas have taped some of SMU's games. Purdue coach Gene Keady depends on his wife, Pat. "She'll help me tape the games," says Keady, "as long as we watch her soaps first."
Videotape has totally changed NBA scouting, according to Bucky Buckwalter, director of player personnel for the Portland Trail Blazers. "We used to go see another team in the league several times," Buckwalter says. "Now you normally go see them one time in person, then scout them off tape 10 times."
Picking up college games with a dish also gives pro teams instant information for the draft. "It's our policy on potential first rounders to watch every game they play as a senior, either in person or on tape," says Pete Babcock, director of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. "That has to be done. A team like, say, Duke, has so many of its games on TV that to see Mark Alarie [whom the Nuggets made the 18th pick in the NBA draft last June], for example, we only had to acquire maybe a half dozen extra tapes."
Some teams use videotape to maintain a businesslike atmosphere in the clubhouse. At the instruction of videophile Valentine, Rangers video man Carl Hamilton puts nothing but baseball on the clubhouse VCR. "From the time they enter the ballpark to the time they go home, they are exposed to baseball," says Hamilton. "There is no golf on that TV in the clubhouse, nothing except baseball."
But when do we have too much of a good thing? Wouldn't it do the Rangers some good if Hamilton slipped in a rerun of The Honeymooners once in a while? Now is the time to ponder whether sports, at both the college and professional level, are becoming too dependent upon video.
Wake Forest football coach Al Groh sees two possible dangers of obsessive video use: "First, athletes may lose the joy of playing, and second, perhaps we will lose the flow of spontaneity."
That video camera is unblinking, unemotional and unforgiving. "Video convicts," is the way Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight puts it, as only he can. Says Cleveland State basketball coach Kevin Mackey of video, with admiration in his voice: "It takes the mystery out of ball games."
Well, do we want that? By turning sports arenas into human performance laboratories, is it not possible that video has made things too "hot" for athletes? It was hardly surprising when the Boston Celtics, en route to the NBA championship in 1980-81 under Fitch, cheered en masse when his video machine fell off its perch and hit the ground. Some of the players acknowledged that even though video study helped, they grew plain tired of it.