Anyone who watched the Giants vs. Redskins Sunday night NFL football game last night knows there was a major officiating blunder at the end of the game. Even the NFL came out today and said there was a mistake. For those that missed it, late in the game with the Redskins trailing the Giants 24-17, some major confusion was caused on whether or not the Redskins had achieved a first down. After a four yard pass completion, two of the officials signaled first down, the chains moved, and down marker changed to signal first down. Problem is that the official call was not a first down (it was third down and 1 instead). The Redskins meanwhile proceeded to call play assuming it was first down. After an incomplete pass, they were informed it was now fourth down which they proceeded to not convert and the game ended.
While watching this game unfold and the chaos on the field due to poor officiating, it hit me how absurd the first down system is in the NFL. After all, the NFL is one of the most advanced and highest of all professional sports in the world. It’s unimaginable in the age of technology that first downs are still maintained by two guys with sticks connected by a chain. How crazy is this?
As I wrote in my prior article called “IoT to Take Fan Engagement to the Next Level”, sensors and microelectronics in wearables or embedded in uniforms and balls have the ability to revolutionize sports games and the enjoyment by fans. It was clear in the game last night, that this technology could have altered the game. The NFL was innovative years ago when the created the yellow line on TV game broadcasts to help fans see the first down line. Now is the time for the NFL to take technology on the field to get first downs (or touchdowns) correct.
Today’s system is absurd. Referees use the chains to measure with precision if a first down was made. However, it always amazes me how imperfect the rest of the process is. Placing the down markers in the first place is done by pure eye-sight from many yards across the field presenting plenty of opportunity for error. Spotting the ball after run or catch can be very difficult to get right. Was the knee down? Where was the ball? Did he go out of bounds? Even placing a ball back on original line of scrimmage after an incomplete pass is subject to an imprecise spot by referee looking across the field at a down marker. Technology can make this system perfect and error proof.
By embedding sensors in uniforms, balls, and on the field, the NFL could provide an innovative solution that gets it right every time. No need to guess and have controversy. No need to waste time with instant-replay reviews & challenges. A sensor in a ball combined with sensors on the field could insure accurate placement of the ball and determine if a ball crossed the first down line. Sensors on uniforms could determine if a player’s knee hit the ground or when/if player stepped out of bounds. Visual signals to players, coaches, and referees could even be provided electronically. Imagine an artificial turf that had embedded LEDs that lit up to signal first down line, play clock, or down.
Some of these examples will require new technologies to perfect and not impact integrity of the game. However, it is clear to me that certain steps can be taken today to start using technology to impact the officiating of games. This will only lead to more investment in new innovative methods that will continue to perfect the system over time. Had the NFL started with some of this prior, we might not have had the same chaos and outcome in the Giants vs. Redskins game last night.
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Disclosure: I am a Dallas Cowboy fan so both of these teams are hated rivals. I would have preferred to see the Redskins go down though.