After a rash of high-profile bad calls in the 2013 preseason, the NFL plans to test something different in 2014: Adding an eighth official to the crew.
As reported on NFL Network today, in the 2014 preseason the NFL wants to try eight-official crews, instead of the standard seven-official crews that have been used in the NFL since 1978. The eighth official would be positioned in the backfield.
The NFL is also concerned that as football becomes a more passing-oriented game, the 22 players on the field are more spread out than they used to be, and it’s harder for seven officials to see everything on the field at once.
The league still appears to be a long way off, however, from instituting an eight-official crew for the regular season. The NFL would want to study how well the eight-person crews work in the preseason before using those crews in the regular season, and there may be additional testing with lining the officials up in different positions on the field. There’s also the matter of hiring more officials: There are 17 officiating crews, so adding an eighth official to each crew would require hiring and training 17 more officials.
Ultimately, the question is whether the problem in the NFL is too few officials, or whether the problem is that some of the officials aren’t good enough, that some of the NFL’s rules are too complex, and that the NFL’s replay system can’t correct some of the most glaring errors. The preseason test may show that eight-official crews don’t enforce the rules any better than seven-official crews. But there’s no harm in trying.