Fixing the NFL Replay and Officiating: It's not 1942 anymore

10/09/2007
This ruling looks like it's going to be about as decisive as the original.
There was a time in the NFL where we tried to get by without instant replay. People were on the fence about it. One play changed that more than any other.
A good replay system is integral to all major sports as far as I'm concerned. Anyone that makes the argument that "human error" should be a part of the game, as far as officiating is concerned, is an idiot. Now generally the reason that someone could be against using technology over "what it looked like" is because of concern over where we eventually draw the line. Will it get to the point where we are busting out electronic microscopes to try and determine if any shoe atoms made contact with any grass atoms on a play going out of bounds? Who knows. In many ways we've already taken it to far, taking things that used to be obvious, watching it in slow motion HD, and saying things like, "Well, he did catch the ball, and run with it 10 yards, but the ball did make 1/8 of a revolution while he was running, so I'm not sure he ever 'had control' of it."

I do however still firmly believe that we should do everything in our power to get the calls right as close to 100% of the time as possible. The following represents my ideal system for modernizing and improving the accuracy of officiating in the NFL.

A Sequestered booth


First off it would be an all around "upgrade" of the power off-the-field officials have. Like college the NFL should have people in place who can decide to review anything they feel like. These plays would be quickly reviewed in the booths and the outcome would be sent down to the field. Where my improvement would be, above and beyond instituting colleges' system, is that the people in the booth would be sequestered from watching the actual game. They would be notified they were going to review something and would get all the camera angles available. They would be without all the mitigating factors that could bias someone watching the game. They wouldn't know the context of the game, the score, or the original call. They wouldn't know the "momentum" of the game, or anything along those lines. Now obviously the scoreboard could flash on the screen and whatnot, but if at all possible all those variables that might bias or pressure a referee to rule one way or another would be taken off the table.

The sequestered officials would watch the play and rule what they believe was right. In the rare circumstances they couldn't rule, even on what was the most likely thing to have happened, they could return a ruling of inconclusive, so the play would default to stand as called originally.

There would be no time wasted running over to the booth, then reviewing a call. A good portion of the time the guy reviewing it is the guy that made the call in the first place. (An obvious bias.)

Timestamps


This has bothered me since the replay system was brought back. Why in the crap isn't there some sort of timestamp system for the replays? I don't know one way or another if the clips the ref is watching officially have timestamps on them or not. I do know that the ones the home viewers see do not. I'm so sick of the fact that we have situations where things stand as called because, for example, in one angle you can see where the ball is, but not the players knee, and in the other replay you can see the knee but not the ball. It's damn near 2008. According to every movie ever made depicting the future we are supposed to be a few short years from flying cars and space colonies. We can't come up with a way to marry the camera angle of the ball with the camera angle of the knee? Which leads me to.....

Placement


Of all the things that drive me the most batty in the NFL is the placement and measuring system. You have guys running from down the field who were grossly out of position, to make any judgment what so ever, where the ball was when the whistle blew. Half the time they are making placements on a ball you can't even see. The spots are off by entire yards sometimes. Then after a ball gets, more or less, randomly spotted 15 times in a drive we go through the charade of measuring down to the micron to determine if a team got a first down or not.

Here's what needs to happen, and I have to believe we have the technology to make it happen relatively easily. Put small tracking devices in the noses of the football. That's all it would take. I have to imagine it's possible to use some device that wouldn't effect the weight or flight in any noticeable manner. No mater how many guys were in that pile at the goal line you would be able to triangulate the nanosecond that ball grossed the goal line. Sure there could still be questions of when the play should be ruled down. However pair up the timestamps from above with the tracking information and you would know exactly where the ball was at any given time. Generally speaking it's easy to tell if a pile is moving or not, it's just not always easy to spot the ball in said pile.

Not to mention, think of all the cool stats, diagrams, and online "Gametracker" type systems, that tracking every millimeter a football moved could garner you.

Challenges


This is minor, but I would also tweak the challenging system. First off you should be able to challenge all day until you get a certain number (Two most likely) wrong. It's a sad outcome but what has happened with the replay system is that instead of making a call refs will sometimes let a play run its course, knowing the teams have some recourse. Sometimes they'll have no idea on a call and just look sideline to sideline waiting for a challenge. You shouldn't be punished just because your team had to use challenges to counter "non calls." On a close fumble the referees SHOULD let the play take it's course, but if the team who had the ball originally wants to challenge the runner was down, and it turns out he was, they shouldn't be out anything because they didn't do anything wrong.

This is really minor, but what was the rational behind the fact that plays are only reviewable by the booth in the last two minutes of the halves? This makes no sense to me. A coach should be rewarded for saving his challenges until the plays "matter the most," not told he no longer has any recourse. What could possibly be the reason for this? The only thing I can think of would be the feeling that the last two minutes already took "long enough"as it was. I for one would rather see more calls get made correctly than have the games finish up 10 minutes quicker.

I would also change it so anything that happened on a football field was able to be challenged. I don't get that the things that are "judgment calls" are not currently able to be reviewed. What isn't a "judgment call" of some sort? I get that if they were to open up the door for this, and watch every play in super slow motion, they would see some example of holding or pass interference on virtually every play. Still, I feel like there should be something in place the that you aren't stuck with the snap decision a ref does or doesn't make.

- Jeremy Lindgren really just wants something to be done to help stem the blatantly obvious conspiracy the referees are committing against the Minnesota Vikings
thumbnailCAW1I0O3.gifMatt - 3354 Posts
10/09/2007 @ 05:30:53 AM
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While I don't think that I would argue human error should be a part of the game, I would argue that, for the most part, having to deal with the human error of officials isn't all that bad considering some of the alternatives. While you may have the technology to ultimately get almost all of the calls "right", unless it produces quick, clear, definitive results, I think you're better off without it most of the time.

Take baseball, for example, I would rather keep the flow of the game going and deal with the occasional mistake by an umpire, than have to interrupt the game for 3 minutes everytime there is a close play at first base. Now if there was a way to get something like the tennis replay/challenge system into effect, then I might change my mind, but for now, I would say that the umpires do their jobs well enough.
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matt.jpgMatt - Ombudsman
10/09/2007 @ 05:34:53 AM
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Also, I should add that I agree with pretty much everything else in this article in regards to the NFL system.
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face.bmpCarlos44ec - A Vote for me is a Vote against Terrorism! ...or atleast just wasted.
10/09/2007 @ 08:46:18 AM
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So then if you feel this way Jeremy, I bet you think that they should stop all the biting, pinching gouging, poking, and finger breaking in the pile-ups...
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - 8953 Posts
10/09/2007 @ 09:16:50 AM
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What? I mean I guess I do think they should stop that. I have no idea what that has to do with anything though.

Matt Wrote - 10/09/2007 @ 05:30:53 AM
While I don't think that I would argue human error should be a part of the game, I would argue that, for the most part, having to deal with the human error of officials isn't all that bad considering some of the alternatives. While you may have the technology to ultimately get almost all of the calls "right", unless it produces quick, clear, definitive results, I think you're better off without it most of the time.

Take baseball, for example, I would rather keep the flow of the game going and deal with the occasional mistake by an umpire, than have to interrupt the game for 3 minutes everytime there is a close play at first base. Now if there was a way to get something like the tennis replay/challenge system into effect, then I might change my mind, but for now, I would say that the umpires do their jobs well enough.


I do think that we shouldn't let it get to the point where the game becomes a tedious waiting game. I feel like we have the technology in place, we just are using it stupid. Half the time in a review is spent talking to people in the booth talking about what he is about to see. They could already have reviewed it in that time in the booth. Likewise, don't you feel that it would be safe to say there's already sort of a constant "review" system in the 4 minutes a game the booth officials are allowed to review. They may only call for an official review once in a blue moon, but that doesn't mean they aren't reviewing everything as best they can already. I feel like we could get it to the point where plays are constantly under live review and calling for an "official" review implies "We've actually already looked at it and are pretty sure you were wrong."

Take last night's Monday night game where T.O. was ruled to have caught a crucial pass that put the Cowboys on the 25 or so with 1 second left. The booth called for a review and began the process of the on the field officials reviewing it that took a couple minutes. However I have to believe that people in the booth had already seen the ball hit the ground, which is why they called the review in in the first place. Why does the guy on the field have to stop the game for 2 minutes when he could just say "The booth has ruled the pass was incomplete, please put 13 seconds on the game clock." I'm sure once in a while the people in the booth just want to be sure of something, which is fine, but I would be willing to bet most of the time they've already seem something the Refs didn't, and I don't know why they can't just tell them.
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Jeremy screwed with this at 10/09/2007 9:17:32 am
scott.jpgScott - Resident Tech Support
10/09/2007 @ 11:15:13 AM
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Jeremy Wrote - 10/09/2007 @ 09:16:50 AM
Take last night's Monday night game where T.O. was ruled to have caught a crucial pass that put the Cowboys on the 25 or so with 1 second left. The booth called for a review and began the process of the on the field officials reviewing it that took a couple minutes. However I have to believe that people in the booth had already seen the ball hit the ground, which is why they called the review in in the first place. Why does the guy on the field have to stop the game for 2 minutes when he could just say "The booth has ruled the pass was incomplete, please put 13 seconds on the game clock." I'm sure once in a while the people in the booth just want to be sure of something, which is fine, but I would be willing to bet most of the time they've already seem something the Refs didn't, and I don't know why they can't just tell them.


I agree with this, because this is basically the system they use in college football. A college game on ESPN a few weeks ago they had a camera in the replay booth to give the fans a look at what the replay process looks like. Really, college football has figured it out. The reviewing of a play starts the moment the play is blown dead, and the guy making the review is already in front of a tv screen and he already saw the play on the screen as it happened, so he has a pretty good idea of what he will be looking at. Nobody has to spend 2 minutes describing to him what the video is going to see. In addition to this, the guy reviewing in the booth has control of the video. He can stop it when he wants, he can slow it down or speed it up. He can even switch to a different camera at any point. I believe that the NFL refs have to tell somebody "hey, slow that down" or "give me the other angle" which takes time.
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newalex.jpgAlex - 3618 Posts
10/09/2007 @ 01:27:51 PM
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Sequestered booth is a bit much (Scott didn't state explicitly but gives good reasons), timestamps yes, gps balls no, get rid of challenges and have constant booth review where they can make decisions and don't have to make the head umpire review.

Now for a completely different train of thought, I need to bring up why I like watching soccer. All the issues with replays and ball placement and timing issues etc etc pretty much don't apply to soccer. I'm guessing here but I don't think they have a replay system and if they did I think only scores should be reviewable. Refs can still affect the game adversely, but things keep moving a lot better and you don't really get caught up in every little millimeter of ball movement. This allows you to enjoy more the overall performance instead of micro-analying every single play. Obviously I still like football too, I just wanted to point out some differences.
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - The pig says "My wife is a slut?"
10/09/2007 @ 02:03:16 PM
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Just to clarify on the "GPS ball spotting" I wouldn't necessarily want to see every spot go through a painstaking "Move it back 3 millimeters, no too far, move it up 2, back one, no, up one, there." spotting process. It's just that it could be used on the key plays where the yes/no "did the ball meet X yard line" is the most important thing.

On the intermittent spotting it could still be used to improve the spots. It wouldn't be hard to get down to the inch level quickly with the aid of the hash marks. It would fix the spots that were a half yard or more off.

Also "forward progress" would be easy and trivial. (Is saying easy and trivial redundant? They meant different things in context in my head, now seeing them written it seems redundant.)
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face.bmpCarlos44ec - 2078 Posts
10/09/2007 @ 02:12:26 PM
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GPS is not as accurate as you are hoping it to be. A GPS unit with up to a meter of accuracy would be very expensive, anyway.

What could be used is a mesh network with Zigbee technology... a single node in the ball, and then several receivers along the sidelines with some kind of program written to triangulate (many times) to determine exact ball location. Even this will have a problem- how do you know when to hit that button to figure placement? Will the ref do that? I think I can sell my products to NFL!
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - I hate our freedoms
10/09/2007 @ 02:26:36 PM
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I never meant for it to be GPS, it's just that Alex referred to it as that.

I stated in the article it wouldn't solve the problem of "when" to place it, but that isn't the biggest problem. You can usually tell when a pile's progress is stopped or when a knee is down, certainly with the aid of replay. By the time the ref retrieves the ball that the player thoughtlessly and haphazardly tossed over his head and gets it back out to mid field someone could be telling him where to put it.
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vignette.bmpCarlos44ec - "The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the lawnmower."
10/09/2007 @ 02:41:26 PM
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Right- and I think it might fall on the Booth anyway (in my little sales pitch) to mark it.
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newalex.jpgAlex - 3618 Posts
10/09/2007 @ 06:36:14 PM
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Carlos44ec Wrote - 10/09/2007 @ 02:12:26 PM
GPS is not as accurate as you are hoping it to be. A GPS unit with up to a meter of accuracy would be very expensive, anyway. What could be used is a mesh network with Zigbee technology... a single node in the ball, and then several receivers along the sidelines with some kind of program written to triangulate (many times) to determine exact ball location. Even this will have a problem- how do you know when to hit that button to figure placement? Will the ref do that? I think I can sell my products to NFL!


Well, obviously GPS wouldn't work but I thought the term would be useful from a propaganda perspective. As far as expensive goes, I'm sure either the owners or the NFL could afford it. Of course the fact that they can afford it doesn't mean there going to fork over the money because a few fans think it's a good idea.
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scott.jpgScott - 6225 Posts
10/10/2007 @ 05:46:23 PM
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About the chip in the ball that track where the ball is: This only shows where the ball is at a given time. How would you account for where the ball was when the player with said ball was down? This doesn't really seem any more accurate than the current system. The still would have to figure out when the player was down and where the ball was when he was down. Explain.
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jon.jpgJon - Nutcan.com's kitten expert
10/13/2007 @ 01:05:06 PM
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It's not 1942, but it's not 2006 either. The review booths don't look like that anymore Jeremy! Get a new picture.

I think the rule about the last 2 minutes was to help the coaches. That way if they already used their challenges, the calls could still be corrected in the final moments of the game or half. Otherwise it would be all, "that was a terrible call but I'm limited in challenges so we're going to lose because of your terrible call." That's just what I always assumed. But I think the challenge system is stupid mostly, I'm just adding input.

Also, Scott, you need to stop raising questions that have already been asked and answered.
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fry6beeu9.jpgJeremy - 8953 Posts
10/13/2007 @ 01:11:12 PM
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I searched high and low for the new booth but couldn't find one.

I understand why they made the booth exception in the last two minutes, but just not why the coaches can't also challenge.

I kept meaning to come back here and make some joke at Scott's expense, but I couldn't think of a funny/clever way to say I addressed that in the original article AND a comment.

I also forgot to mention it would be trivial to determine if the ball hit the ground or not.
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jon.jpgJon - 2847 Posts
10/13/2007 @ 01:16:39 PM
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Jeremy Wrote - 10/13/2007 @ 01:11:12 PM
I searched high and low for the new booth but couldn't find one.


OK you get credit for trying then. I guess I won't dock you any fictional meaningless points after all.
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scott.jpgScott - If you aren't enough without it, you'll never be enough with it.
10/13/2007 @ 10:03:07 PM
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I don't actually read the things I comment on.
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jon.jpgJon - 2847 Posts
10/16/2007 @ 11:03:17 PM
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Scott Wrote - 10/13/2007 @ 10:03:07 PM
I don't actually read the things I comment on.


“I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn't believe anything.”
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Jon screwed with this at 10/16/2007 11:07:01 pm
scott.jpgScott - Resident Tech Support
10/17/2007 @ 06:19:15 AM
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I gave this 5 nuts instead of 4 because of the cool characters you put in at the beginning and end of your comment, as if you did it on purpose or something.
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IMG_3063[1].jpgjthompto - 209 Posts
10/19/2007 @ 06:03:14 PM
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I think the current replay system fits the NFL very well. Let me explain. The coaches are given 2 challenges per game and 1 more if they are correct on the first 2. I think it adds to game strategy. Dumb coaches (Mike Tice) always challange on plays that don't make a lot of difference and end up losing their challenge and a time out. If a coach is smart, he will save his challenges until the end of the game to avoid losing on a bad call. If a bad call happens near the end of a game and the coach doesn't have a challenge, tough luck. I don't think you can have it both ways and have the coaches challenge and have people review every play. Every crucial play within the last 2 mintues is reviewed, even whenthe Cowboys ran up to the line against Buffalo on the T.O. catch, the officals still stopped play in time to review it.

I think the head Ref on the filed needs to make the call, it gives him the accountability for his decision. If he makes the wrong call, his face is out there to be scrutinized by the media, fans, coaches and players.

I think its become part of the game and adds to the excitement. You can even challenge plays on Madden. The changes suggested in the article make sense too, but I don't mind the current system.
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jeremy.jpgJeremy - 8953 Posts
10/19/2007 @ 11:06:42 PM
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I just don't think that the events that actually took place being the outcome that resulted or not is something that should fall pray to "strategy." A catch should be called a catch and a drop should be called a drop, and we should strive to get it right as close to 100% as possible.
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