By Kaiser Shaffer, Web Editor

A few weeks ago at the AFC championship game, there was big headache that plagued the New England Patriot’s sideline. It wasn’t just the Bronco’s defense, but a much more foreign force.

Somewhere in the first quarter of the game, a problem arose with the Microsoft Surface tablets that have been used by the NFL since 2014. While the issues (a faulty network connection) were more or less ironed out by the second quarter, the Patriots lost precious data that they claimed hindered their ability to make plays during their possession. It may not have been the sole factor of the Patriots’ 18-20 loss, but it was certainly an element of distraction for the team.

This is the future of the NFL, and maybe sports in general.

For years, teams had to get play reviews by faxing photos taken from the upper levels of stadiums to black and white printers on the side lines. This all changed in 2013 when Microsoft signed a five-year deal with the NFL to provide all sidelines with their tablet computers with special pre-loaded apps for coaches and players to be able to use. It’s been a great success for the teams so far.

Players can now see full resolution color photos almost as soon as they are taken and they can use zoom functionality to focus in on certain players. Coaches are able to use the Surface’s pen to annotate images and use the tablet as a whiteboard with multiple colors. This season, a few games will even have the ability to have video playback with notes. Still, there are issues that have yet to be solved.

Tech companies are increasingly looking to sports to find applications for new gadgets and services. Right now there are tablets, but in the future businesses like Microsoft, Google and Intel will surely be pushing for more usage of wearables that give teams and fans alike vast amounts of data about a player’s performance. Just this year the NFL experimented with trackers in shoulder pads that record player movement and force of tackles.

All of this brings into question how much sports are being influenced by technology. How secure is the data that these coming sensors are producing? What policies are in place to make it impossible for teams to hack in to another team’s data during a game? Are teams able to resort to older methods when digital ones are unsuccessful?

It is great to have plenty of data and an assortment of new tools readily available on the sidelines, but traditional backups and safeguards are needed to assure that future games are not halted or severely altered on the account of technology failure. Having a team be able to claim that their chances at reaching the Super Bowl were reduced due to a computer blunder should not be a reality that we are content with.

While the future of sports sounds idyllic, the Patriots make obvious that we are not there yet. But we can look forward to a time when an interference doesn’t involve technical difficulties.