The NFL needs to start applying more technology to the sport

Rick Stewart

NFL officials are routinely criticized for bad judgement calls. Yet, it's 2013. Why are we even relying on them anymore?

Of course, all it takes is a primetime game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. During the final drive on Sunday Night Football, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III completed a four-yard pass to Pierre Garcon after the two minute warning, falling one yard shy of a first down at Washington's 45-yard line.

Some of the officials, including the one's nearest Washington's sideline, motioned for a first down and the chains were moved. Believing that they have a fresh set of downs, Griffin unleashed a deep pass over the middle that fell incomplete. That's alright, it's only second down. No, wait, the officials corrected... it's fourth down.

"We signaled 'third down' on the field," head official Jeff Triplette told pool reporter Zac Boyer of The Washington Times. "The stakes were moved incorrectly. After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The chains just got moved incorrectly."

Why then isn't Triplette stopping the play and getting this corrected? Or at the very least, correcting the error and replaying the down. Mistakes happen (though they don't need to) but if it's a matter of not seeing it, then that's troubling (not that they haven't missed penalties or had ball placement issues). According to John Keim with ESPN, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan asked for a measurement and received a completely different story.

"He said, 'You don't have to, it's a first down,'" Shanahan said. "I saw it as a first down on the other side, and he signaled to move the chains on our side. I asked him if it was third down. He said he already told me it was a first down. ... After I saw it was fourth down, I asked him, 'You already told me it was first down.' That was quite disappointing."

In the end it didn't matter. Griffin converted the first down pass anyway and Garcon had the football yanked from him and the Giants took two knees for the win.

The issue raises one of the biggest gaffs in professional, and even college, football.

Ball placement and the lack of technology.

How can an official, sometimes 40-50 yards away from the play, know exactly where the ball is placed while (for example) a running back is powering his way through a wall of humanity? You mean to tell me that someone without hawkish x-ray vision knows exactly where the football should be placed, despite having players obstructing their view? How many measurements were incorrectly applied because the official, miles away in relation to the compressed pile where even high definition cameras in super slow motion can't penetrate, marks the football poorly? Good spot, bad spot, we hear those terms all of the time. And we shouldn't be. Not in 2013.

When a ball is poorly placed, coaches are forced to use one of their coveted challenges, all because officials make judgement calls "believing" that the knee was down.

Cincinnati narrowly lost a turnover during their win over the Chargers on Sunday. Philip Rivers completed a 14-yard pass to rookie Keenan Allen when safety George Iloka noticeably jarred the football out of Allen's hands. As the football freely rolled around on the turf, an official stopped the play and dramatically called the play dead, indicating that Allen's knee had touched the ground while he was in possession of the ball.

It wasn't even close.

Marvin Lewis challenged the play and the Bengals were awarded the football, in one of the quickest reviews in NFL history, largely because Vincent Rey had the presence of mind to scoop up the football after the play. Can you imagine had Lewis ran out of timeouts or challenges, unable to challenge the play? And what exactly did the official see that was so blatant that forced him to call the play dead?

With technology continuously setting new standards in 2013, why is the NFL so insistent on a 1960s approach when calling the game?

In fairness, there will never be a game that's called with perfection. The NFL's biggest mistake is allowing officials freedom to make subjective calls that could go in any direction (or none at all). The only accountability officials have to worry about is a grading system that determines their postseason participation.

Yet how dated is the league's replay policy and why hasn't it adopted college's system where (mostly) everything is reviewed? People initially complain because it extends the time that a game is played, but have you WITNESSED an NFL replay? There can be five reviews in college even before one is completed in the NFL. And really, if your season is on the line because an officiating gaff that was made in week four might have lost your season, those arguments are flushed down the proverbial toilet.

The USA Today has an intriguing story about a company called First Down Laser Systems. Not very hard to decipher the company name, but the proposal is this: A laser on the field, like the one you see at home, that identifies the first down marker for everyone to see. Genius. Don't wait for the chains. Look at the laser. Quick and easy. And the NFL has listened to proposals from Alan Amron.

"Everybody knows about us, but until something like this happens, they don't realize how important having the (first-down) line on the field just like you see on TV is to the game," said Amron via the USA Today.

I'll go one further. Microchips are insanely small today. What's wrong with placing microscopic tracking devices in a football that's tracked from a computing system to determine ball placement?

No longer would you need to sit through replays regarding third down conversions nor 15 different angles (in high definition) without indisputable evidence that the ball carrier broke the goalline. Yes, the current replay system is important. But it also kills the momentum of the game and whatever rhythm a team has built.

If you're worried about malfunctioning equipment (as if human error has ever been a problem), then keep the chains and first down markers, just in case, for a seamless transition back to the cavemen era of officiating. And when someone scores, have two big flashing lights at the top of the goal posts affixed to a really loud horn. Yes, I kind of ripped that off from hockey but you know that the technology exists.

It's time to transition away from officials having needless impacts in these games. Not only is outdated and pointlessly nostalgic, it's unfair to the officials whose sole purpose, other than making judgement calls, is to be on the receiving end of a head coach's tirade and the scorn of 99 percent of all NFL fans around the globe.

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