The NFL has an officiating problem. The NFL knows it has an officiating problem. The question becomes whether the NFL will finally do something meaningful to fix its officiating problem, given the embarrassing outcome in the Rams-Saints game.
The simplest solution comes from an idea that has been advocated here on numerous occasions in recent years. The league should expand each officiating crew by one, and the league should put that eighth crew member not on the field but in a booth, with access to all real-time images and replay angles, and an audio link to the referee.
The video official would be responsible for bridging the gap between that which the middle-aged-and-older officials see unfolding in a blender of frenetic activity around them and that which fans see at home, on high-definition flat screens. The video official would be responsible for talking to the referee after each play, consulting with the referee as to whether there’s a reason to defer to something shown by the various available TV angles.
It wouldn’t constitute replay review; it would represent an extension of the first look conducted by the officials on the field. And the discussion between the video official and the referee would be no different from the on-field consultations that routinely happen between officials who had different angles as to the same play.
It wouldn’t take long, or at least it shouldn’t take long. And it would be used to correct anything and everything, from the missed pass interference that happened late in the Rams-Saints game to the missed Jared Goff facemask foul happening earlier in the fourth quarter to the phantom roughing the passer foul called against the Chiefs as the Patriots were trying to reverse a 21-17 deficit.
The video official would tell the referee to throw a flag, pick up a flag, fix the mark of a ball, anything and everything to supplement what the on-field officials see. And the replay function would still be available to fix the ruling on the field (as enhanced by the video official), but reversals would happen less frequently, since the replay angles would enhance the ruling on the field, resulting in fewer instances of clear and obvious evidence to the contrary.
Much more needs to be done to improve officiating. But the time has come to make this change. Actually, the time for this change arrived a long time ago; the question is whether the rarely-proactive NFL will react to Sunday’s game by finally admitting it.