U. Pittsburgh’s athletic director of IT optimizes networks and game-time performance

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Technology is used to support many different functions of a university, from instruction to business operations. But for Seth Graham, University of Pittsburgh’s assistant athletic director of information technology, it’s about how to improve sports on campus, for players and fans.

Working out of offices in the university’s basketball arena and delivering technology solutions to coaches out on the field, Graham and his team members are not traditional IT guys.

“We wear a lot of different hats I’m sure most … IT guys don’t really get to,” Graham told EdScoop.

(Seth Graham / U. Pitt)

Graham, who has worked in various roles with Pitt athletics for about six years, said the department has always used technology to support coaches and players and help them win more games.

“Honestly, you know, competitive excellence is a big focus of athletics,” Graham said. “And if there’s any piece of technology or if there’s any software, hardware I can provide to a sport that will help them, maybe not so directly, but to some degree win more games, then that’s a big impact.”

In a recent interview he talked about the impact of his work, unique challenges he faces, emerging technology and the future of his department.

As assistant athletic director of information technology, how is your job different than a typical IT position?

My clientele aren’t people that are stuck behind a desk all day. They are coaches who show up and are out on the field and there’s student athletes around who are doing workouts and instead of setting up conference rooms. We’re setting up technologies that impact live events and we’re putting on almost like a game day presentation for our fans. So it’s really fun just to apply IT to the lens of athletics, and in college athletics, it’s cool to see these kids come through for four years and really make an impact with kinds of a tools we as an athletic department get to provide them.

What have been some of the most impactful projects you’ve worked on?

We made a large investment in Pitt Studios, which is a front-of-house studio and three back-end control rooms in conjunction with the launch of the [Atlantic Conference Center] networks last summer. That generated the need for a large amount of content and increased the amount of broadcast that we do each year for really all of our sports. In conjunction with that, you know, that ramped up the amount of digital content we were creating, our first production staff grew our broadcast staff grew. So obviously we kind of had to adapt a little bit on our side to support that.

What are some unique challenges that you face in IT for athletics?

A lot of the challenges that we face are very much just due to our environment, our unique environment. I mean, our offices are located in our basketball arena. So I would say that we get hit with a lot of unique challenges in that we need a very unique infrastructure for a basketball arena. You know, we have a basketball arena that seats 12,600 people. We recently, over last spring, launched high-density public Wi-Fi in this building. Getting to particular parts of the arena posed some challenges.

Scheduling always poses challenges. It’s a trade off of ‘hey, we’ve got to do all this work on the court’, or whatever we may need to do, but ‘we have two basketball teams that need to practice.’ They run camps and clinics out of the court, we have volleyball practice down here every now and then, there’s outside events in this building, so sometimes scheduling of these bigger capital projects where you’re trying to make an impact are difficult.

What emerging technologies are you most excited about?

I think a lot of what I’ve seen lately is actually human-performance-driven technology. Things that can measure measure workloads of the athlete during practice, during games. And how do we optimize training periods or rest periods? There are a lot of unique technologies that we’ve been looking to implement to do that.

A big one for our staff has been the Pitt Studios project that I mentioned. You know, having our own studio and having control rooms and this big post-production suite and the technology that those guys use really just let us put out a really high quality product and brand ourselves in a way that, in the past, I don’t think we had the opportunity to do.

How do you hope that your department evolves? What’s next for you, do you think?

You don’t want to be left behind and you don’t want to get kind of stuck in your ways. So technology is obviously a big part of it. Pushing things forward. And I think our new athletic director and the staff that we have here are all very focused on just driving everything to be better, whether it’s facilities, whether it’s the tools that we’re giving our staff.

So it’s really just: how do you keep pushing the envelope on maximizing your spaces and maximizing the value you get out of doing some of these bigger projects?

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