The League

Emil Steiner
Editor and Blogger

Emil Steiner

The author of NFL Crime Watch and Founding Editor of The League.

Dump the Refs


While there are many NFL rules that could use some updating, my biggest beef with officiating is the officials. Though it would be impossible to get rid of refs entirely -- every play would be holding as On the DL host Dan Levy told me this morning (without sarcasm, I think) -- there is absolutely no reason in this day and age that humans should still be spotting the football.

We've all been there -- fourth and long, the game on the line. Everyone is on the edge or their seat, or on their toes, or in my case crouching in a three point stance with my wife shaking her head. The ball is snapped, quarterback fakes the hand off, the blitz is in his face, he dumps a pass and is driven into the grass. Tight end bobbles the catch but somehow hangs on. He breaks a tackle and is rumbling toward that magic red line that no one but TV viewers can see.

Then boom! Gang tackle on the line. Did he get? DID HE GET IT? First field judge is indicating no, second ump is saying he did. The refs huddle up, players being restrained as they attempt to lobby. One determined wideout who was nowhere near the play is jumping up and down as if his protests will magically will the ball's spot one inch further. A lineman frenetically karate chops "FIRST DOWN!" nodding as if there's no doubt. Play-by-play and color commentator are reviewing from every different angle. "Was his knee down though before he broke the plane?" They're going up to the booth for further review. Roll the commercial as the anticipation stretches. My wife asks if we can switch to Project Runway during the break. . . . I give her the look of death.

Now, eight times out of 10 it'll be an easy and obvious call once they get the replay angle right. And nine times out of 10 they'll actually get the call right. But I'm afraid that's just not good enough. Football is the ultimate game of inches, and with the parity the league has fought so hard to achieve, it can feel like a game of nanometers. Why leave it up to elderly men to determine if a team got a first down or if the ball broke the plane or if a receiver was in or out of bounds? It just doesn't make sense.

Put sensors in the football, put sensors in the pads, fit every stadium with a grid under the field and on the sidelines. Let's remove the doubt, mistakes and disappointment of human error. After all, if a $50 GPS system can help fans find their way out of Fed Ex Field parking lot, why is the NFL still relying on Ed Hochuli's eyes (and biceps) to make decisions that jeopardize the integrity of their multi-billion sport?

By Emil Steiner  |  May 11, 2009; 11:56 AM ET  | Category:  Emil Steiner , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Stress Can Be Good | Next: Too Much Pass Interference


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You spend the entire third paragraph describing the most exciting part of watching football and then you say that it needs to be eliminated? I was on the edge of my seat just READING that description - Football needs to start now.

Posted by: SupremeWu | May 11, 2009 2:09 PM

I couldn't agree more with your final point, football does need to start now.
But where did I say eliminate the drama? I'm saying you keep all the drama but you make sure the final decision is accurate. Just because you use technology doesn't mean that the process is any less dramatic.

Posted by: Emil Steiner | May 11, 2009 2:24 PM

You only need to put a sensor in the ball.

The grid on the field will detect the sensor. Have a movable apparatus positioned on the first down marker.

Have a large, red light illuminate when the ball crosses a first down line or the goal line, very much akin to hockey.

Retain your refs, but give them the added bonus of knowing the precise moment when the ball crosses the goal line, first down marker, or makes an advance on the playing field.

This seems to be the most probable and realistic approach. There will still be instant replays, there will still be controversy over control, possession, feet position, etc. These are all things that require judgment and a ref. BUT, if you implement the ball sensor - these controversies will never again be about the position of the ball.

Posted by: trident420 | May 12, 2009 9:32 AM

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