Over this past week, the inability of NFL referees to call penalties correctly has become perhaps more apparent than ever. There were three penalties called Sunday and Monday that impacted the game, changing the outcome in at least one. And as always, the NFL has remained silent.
It’s hard to understand why. The NFL has the resources and capital, they make billions of dollars a year and can easily afford to spend some of that money to change the way that games are officiated. Coaches, players, and fans are fed up with penalties, called or not called, they impact the game far beyond what they should.
It’s not even that the penalties are or are not called, it is the lack of consistency with which they are called and the regularity that penalties are miscalled. The NFL has a problem. And for whatever reason, they are doing nothing to fix it. But if the NFL can be harassed by its players, coaches, and fans into doing something, there are a few things the NFL can do to change officiating for the better.
NFL Referees Need Help
The first couple of things the NFL can do is take advantage of technology. Starting with putting a chip in both ends of the football and in the tip of the player’s shoes/shoulder pads. At the goal line, install a system that can be used in tandem with the pylons, above ground or underneath does not matter.
The two simply need to send signals to one end so that when the tip of the ball crosses the goal line, it also crosses the line that the pylons set. Below ground would probably be better to ensure consistency with results, but above ground is more practical and keeps grass from potentially being damaged, though with electric fences this does not seem to be an issue and so this shouldn’t be either.
Taking advantage of these chips would allow for players’ positions on the field to be precisely monitored, instead of relying on the eyesight of officials who have to pay attention to several things at one time, besides where players are when the ball is snapped.
Maybe the Referees have too much on their plates
Before I elaborate on how the NFL can implement tech into the game, I want to point out that the league might be asking their referees to do too much. Line judges (and other referees) have to pay attention to several things before and during the snap of the ball.
First, NFL referees must determine that no offensive player moved enough to warrant a false start penalty. Second, the referee must pay attention to the formation of the players, and determine if the players are lined up correctly. Third, referees must notice if defensive players have moved past the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. That’s a lot to take in and process in three seconds of time while players are shifting, moving around, and trying to cause one side to react or change their formation.
Perhaps the NFL should take a look at what they are putting on the plates of referees. It’s another bullet in the chamber for the argument that referees need help, and the best way to do that is with technology.
Use Trackable Chips
The chip in the ball will be used relative to the goal line laser to determine when/if the ball crossed the goal line. It would immediately send a signal and could be tracked to even use cameras where the ball and the player are not clearly visible to determine at what moment the ball cross the line. Officials could then determine if the player was down at the time or not using camera replay.
The chip in the tip of the player’s cleats would be used to determine if a player crosses the line of scrimmage, which is set by the placement of the football. As soon as the tip of the player’s foot crosses the line/position on the field where the football is at, officials would be notified that the player was offsides. This could become reviewable because it would no longer be “a close call.”
And if the rules call for “any part of the player” being offsides, put a chip in the helmet, or shoulder pads too.
Line judges would be equipped with a small device that would show a green screen if all players were NOT offsides and would turn red immediately if a player were to do so. It could also be equipped to rumble/vibrate if a player goes offsides to allow a line judge to keep their eyes on the players for other penalties.
This device could also be used for goal-line situations and would simply show a blue screen if the ball crosses the goal line. There would be another device on the sidelines that would record when a player crosses the Line of Scrimmage and the ball crosses the goal line. This would be used in replays, to ensure that a player crossed the goal line before they were down by contact and that the player was offsides before the ball was snapped.
These devices don’t have to be used on every play and in fact, could be simply used to review these situations/penalties to make sure they are correct. The aim is not to remove the referees, but to aid them in their ability to accurately call penalties.
All in all, this system could consist of seven devices. Two for the line judges, four devices that are installed in the pylons/underground, and one “hub” device that receives, processes, and redirects the information that the chips would be sending. This hub would be constantly tracking the whereabouts of all the chips, and the time of those chips when there would be a penalty or the ball cross the goal line.
This would be incredibly useful to improve the game, by both removing controversial penalties, and making sure that all touchdowns/touchbacks are indeed what they’re called on the field. This would relieve fans of the anger and frustration that they have felt with referees, who are trying their best but simply miss something. This system would not miss anything and would make the game of football more accurate, and remove penalties from the game. Those are things both the NFL, teams, coaches, and fans want.
Add Sky Judge Referees
Another idea that has been widely called for is to have a “sky judge.” These NFL referees would review penalties immediately after they were called, or not called, and could overturn or call those penalties if they were missed/incorrectly called on the field.
It’s easy to understand player and fan frustration with the referees and the NFL’s lack of accountability.
Joey Bosa is a great example of what fans and players are feeling. “Refs are blind. I’m sorry, but you’re blind. Open your eyes and do your job. It’s unbelievable. … These guys have got to do a better job because it’s been years of terribly missed calls left and right. “
Aside from the call on Bosa, there was an awful call on Washington Football Team pass rusher Chase Young for roughing the quarterback on Sunday. If you go back and watch the replay, he barely even touched Matt Ryan and certainly did nothing to require a penalty. Another example was Joe Haden being called offsides in what would have been a 10-point swing and potentially game-changing play. Haden was called offsides on a blocked field goal that Minkah Fitzpatrick returned for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers.
When you watch the replay, it is clear the Haden simply timed the snap perfectly and was not offsides. If that touchdown stood, or the penalty (which was called very late into the play I might add), the Pittsburgh Steelers might have won the game. The Steelers would have been up 17-14, and the outcome would probably have been much different. Instead, the Steelers lost the game 27-17.
Those plays are just a few quick examples from last week where officials made calls that potentially altered the game and its outcome, and they were the wrong calls.
I don’t want to simply blast NFL referees but this must stop. The NFL has the money and resources to use technology in the ways I have outlined and almost definitely could improve on the ideas I have offered. The NFL needs to better equip referees and help them become more accurate and keep referees accountable. Part of better equipping referees would be the “sky judge” who could overturn or make the correct calls that were missed on the field.
The NFL has the money and resources to make these changes to the game. The longer they refuse to do so, the more frustration the NFL will feel from fans, coaches, and players.
It’s understandable to be frustrated with the referees. They’ve been more than disappointing.
But the NFL is a greater culprit here; they have done little to nothing to help the referees and have left them on an island. The lack of change and improvement from the league in this area is a far greater disappointment than the inability of referees to call games correctly.