Sometimes when a referee reviews a replay of a close call about whether the ball crossed the goal line, or whether a player’s toe touched out of bounds, he ends up announcing that there was no conclusive replay angle, and so the play will have to stand as called on the field. Those plays raise a question: Why isn’t there always a camera fixed along every goal line and sideline, to provide the correct angle?
That question may no longer come up starting this season, as one of the new rule proposals that NFL owners will vote on next week is to install six permanent cameras in every stadium, with one on each goal line, one on each sideline and one on each end line.
The new rule was proposed by the Patriots, which is no surprise because coach Bill Belichick has long argued that the NFL needs to put cameras in place to ensure the necessary replay angles are available.
“When you challenge a play, you have no way of knowing what the camera angles are,” Belichick said in 2008. “If we at least had a camera placed like in tennis, on the goal line, the end line, and on the sideline so you have six cameras [and] you know that [if] the play involved any one of those positions, you at least have a camera angle on it, so you know what you are challenging.”
Of course, the difference between football and tennis is that line calls in tennis are a lot simpler. Tennis has the best replay in any sport because in tennis, it’s as easy as determining whether the ball was in or out. In football, it’s a lot more complicated. The question isn’t only whether the ball crossed the goal line; the question is which came first, the ball crossing the goal line or the player’s knee touching down. The question isn’t only whether the receiver got his feet down in bounds; it’s whether he had possession of the ball and his feet down in bounds simultaneously.
There’s also the matter of having 22 players on the field, any one of whom could obscure the view of the camera. Sometimes a camera along the goal line just captures a large mass of bodies, and there’s no way to tell where the ball is.
Still, after an NFL season in which it seemed like a week couldn’t go by without an officiating controversy, it makes sense for the NFL to do all it can to help the officials do their jobs better. Belichick’s proposal wouldn’t fix every bad call, but if it even fixes a few, it’s worth it.