When the NFL first used the replay system as a tool for correcting bad calls on the field, the decisions were made in the replay booth. After a decade or so without replay review of any kind, the procedure returned a decade or so ago with the referee physically performing the inspection of the available camera angles on the field.
There are reasons supporting the notion of having the captain of the officiating crew be the one to engage in the actual second-guessing of a call made in real time by another member of the officiating crew. But those reasons fail under the weight of the reasons for returning the process upstairs, as the Bills wisely have proposed.
And so, when the owners take up the question on Wednesday, here are five compelling reasons for taking the replay process back upstairs.
1. It will take less time.
One of the biggest complaints about the entire replay process comes from the amount of time it takes. While the actual inspection of the video is limited, the process of getting the referee in position to review the video consists of multiple opportunities for delay.
He walks to the sideline. He puts on the headset. He talks into the headset. He gets under the hood. He stays under the hood. He emerges from the hood. He talks on the headset again. He takes off the headset. He talks to the coach. He talks to other members of the crew. He walks to the middle of the field. He turns on his microphone. He announces the outcome.
Sending it back to the booth eliminates the dog-and-pony aspect of the protocol. The official in the booth reviews the angles, makes a decision, tells the official, the officials tells the rest of us, and the game proceeds.
That’s reason enough to do it. But five reasons always sound better than one.
2. The booth provides a better environment for studying the replays.
The chances of performing any work that requires a high degree of attention in the best way possible are increased when the work is performed in the quietest possible conditions. So when choosing between a closed booth with multiple screens and relative serenity or a portable peep show that is viewed in the elements and noise and activity of the pit of a football stadium, which environment is more conducive to making good decisions?
For that reason, the NFL should go one step farther and consider conducting all replay at the league’s war room in Manhattan, just as the NHL reviews all questionable goals in Toronto. It’s the closest thing to a detached laboratory setting.
3. The current system disrupts the referee’s overall work flow.
Being a referee entails a far different skill set than analyzing a TV screen. Forcing the referee to stop what he’s doing and do just that necessarily takes him out of whatever groove he otherwise may be in.
Sure, plenty of referees can adapt. But why should they have to when there’s a perfectly good alternative?
4. The mobile replay booth can go on the fritz.
On multiple occasions over the years, problems have arisen with the replay equipment. With a rolling box on the sidelines into which the images are pumped remotely, that’s just another piece of machinery that can fail while in use.
While this doesn’t mean that the replay booth won’t have technical issues, the monitors in the booth remain in a static, controlled environment once they are connected to the network truck, making them necessarily more reliable than the contraption that is in the open air, on the field.
Also, getting rid of the on-field HD boxes makes the overall system cheaper.
5. No one complains about the college system.
For years now, college football has allowed replay decisions to be made upstairs. And there has never been a single complaint that the system needs to be taken out of that person’s hands and sent down to the field.
That should count for something, especially in light of the many complaints about the replay process that the NFL now uses.
And so, as the owners consider the rule changes for 2012, here’s hoping that they consider one that could go a long way toward making the replay system more accurate, reliable, and ultimately more efficient.