One of the most fundamental questions in football — whether the ball crossed the goal line — is often the subject of instant replay review. Too often, there’s simply no replay angle that can definitively answer that most fundamental of questions.
That was the case on two different occasions in San Francisco on Sunday, as the Rams won with the help of two very close calls, one at the end of the first half and one at the end of the game. In both cases, there was no definitive replay angle that showed whether the ball crossed the goal line, and therefore the referee had to defer to what had been called on the field. In both cases, the Rams benefitted.
Most of the attention this week has gone to Colin Kaepernick’s attempt to sneak into the end zone at the end of the game, which could have been a game-winning touchdown but became a game-losing fumble. Kaepernick insists he’s positive he still had the ball when he crossed the goal line, but the officials weren’t so sure, and the replay angles were inconclusive.
But the Kaepernick play wasn’t the only close call at the goal line in that game. At the end of the first half, Rams return man Tavon Austin caught a missed field goal, started to run it out of the end zone, attempted to reverse course just as he was crossing the goal line, and eventually was tackled and brought down in the end zone. The officials on the field ruled that Austin’s forward progress had been stopped in the field of play, although the 49ers thought they had tackled Austin in the end zone and deserved a safety. Again, the referee said there was no conclusive replay angle.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said in a video released by the league that there’s simply no way for the referee to make a definitive ruling if there’s no camera on the goal line.
“There just wasn’t anything definitive,” Blandino said. “Very difficult to tell from this angle, and we really need a shot down the goal line. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that. . . . With a goal line shot we would’ve been able to make a definitive ruling, but with the angles available it just wasn’t there.”
That raises a question: Why don’t the NFL and its network partners agree to have a camera fixed at each goal line at all times during every game? That would serve the referee, the teams and viewers at home well. It wouldn’t clear up every call — sometimes even when there is a camera at the goal line, it’s unclear where the ball is because players are blocking the camera’s view — but it would clear up enough calls that it would be worth doing.