Cost, fear of unintended consequences killed “Sky Judge,” for now

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The NFL, still smarting from last year’s pass interference replay-review debacle, has no desire to tempt fate again with another device aimed at fixing the mistakes of on-field officials — especially since this year’s primary option would be far more expensive.

The withdrawal of the proposals that would have created a “Sky Judge” (the league apparently has tried to refrain from using that specific term) becomes the politically delicate way of letting the league off the hook, at least for 2020. As one league source explained it to PFT on Wednesday, before the proposals were withdrawn, there were fears that embracing a new plan for avoiding a repeat of the Rams-Saints NFC Championship blunder would have created unintended consequences that the league wasn’t equipped to handle, since that’s precisely what happened in 2019 with replay review.

At the core of the reluctance to embrace an eighth member of the officiating crew who would bridge the gap between the things the seven officials see on the field and everything that the rest of us see at home is the question of whether the expense is justified. Recent concerns about the “pipeline” of potential Sky Judges quite possibly represents code for “we don’t want to pay what it would cost to hire 17 people with the skills, abilities, and experience to do the job.”

If the league were intent on doing whatever it takes to staff the Sky Judge job properly, the league would make significant financial offers to, for starters, every former official who now works in the media. The league would then hire other retired officials to sit in a booth, watch the TV camera angles, and talk to the referees as to any and all potential situations in which there may have been a disconnect between the things perceived in real time with the naked eye by middle-aged officials trying not to get trampled by the gladiators and the images broadcast into every home in crystal-clear, slow-motion, ultra-HD.

And so the league is poised to revert to the same rules and procedures that were in place when officials missed a blatant incident of interference that helped keep the Saints from securing a berth in Super Bowl LIII. If 2020 unfolds without major incident, there will be a temptation to keep kicking the can until the next egregious mistake happens.

The league should resist that urge. As legalized gambling spreads (and that spread will likely be accelerated as states try to balance budgets post-pandemic), the financial consequences of bad calls to average Americans will intensify. Eventually, there will be a mistake big enough to attract the attention of politicians and/or prosecutors and/or anyone else who would benefit from pointing a finger at the league and claiming gross incompetence, or worse.

That’s why the league needs to invest some of the millions (if not billions) it will earn via legalized gambling into efforts like Sky Judge, with the goal of creating the impression that the NFL is doing everything it can to get every call right as often as possible, and in turn minimzing if not eliminating any and all suspicions that, somewhere and somehow, the fix may be in. If the league isn’t ready to do it the right way in 2020, it needs to commit to spending the time and money necessary to doing it the right way in 2021, even if the coming season unfolds without a major officiating controversy.

26 responses to “Cost, fear of unintended consequences killed “Sky Judge,” for now

  1. I don’t understand the cost being too great. The AAF and XFL both used Sky Judges and they turned out ok…

  2. What a joke! Don’t want to pay!!!???? I’ll do it for a 100.00 a game from my living room. People in charge of this league are an absolute disgrace.

  3. Good thing the people who run the league weren’t the ones running NASA in the 1960’s after JFK issued the challenge to go to the moon. “Unintended consequences”, please, that excuse can be used for literally everything.

  4. Unintended consequences, as in, we likely won’t be able to control outcomes and point spreads and what not as well as we have become accustomed to.

  5. It’s all about the gambling…millions and millions of dollars are to be made by the owners. They don’t really want a system that can cause controversy…or the way the games are played out.

  6. What unintended consequences… quick analysis with the ability to right a wrong? This is common sense… there should be no argument… something is off here

  7. NFL needs to control the games. Anything will replay makes it harder for the league to justify.

  8. The XFL, for all its flaws, executed the Sky Judge concept beautifully. Letting us listen in eliminated any controversy. We can argue whether, for example, we think the ball crossed the plane, but we can’t argue “I don’t have a clear view of the ball” when we’re watching what the official is watching.

    In fact, let us listen in to all officiating discussions. The XFL got partway there, and it really took a lot of pressure off the officiating because we got a clear view of what was being discussed, and why, including the back-and-forth on trying to get difficult situations sorted out. Even the “fail Mary” from ten years back was made a lot easier to understand – after the fact, unfortunately – by the explanations from the two officials in the end zone who made what appeared to be conflicting signals. If we could have listened in, there would have been a lot less controversy about this particular ruling. (That still doesn’t cover the missed OPI, but the night of the game, all the commentators missed that as well, and it didn’t come up until some time afterwards.)

  9. good. goodell’s clowns have shown time and again they will screw up anything they touch. enough already.

  10. How else are you gonna be able to rig the games if all of the calls are the right calls

  11. It’s frustrating that the tools to get the job done right are available yet the league refuses to use them.

  12. Cost??? Getting the call right is invaluable. And that’s exactly why the owners have no vested interested in getting the call right.

  13. I thought the AAF did a great job with inventing the Sky Judge. The XFL use the same thing. It was innovated and it worked for teams and fans. This unindended consequences is plain bull. There are too many old stogy owners in the NFL who are resistant to change. They can’t see things have to change for the better.

  14. Who knew another ref would involve hiring more employees!?

    The same NFL that files as a non profit.
    The same NFL that doesn’t want to pay refs a full time wage.
    The same NFL not paying its cheerleaders.
    The same NFL that wants player safety while pushing for more games and more travel for international games.

    Yet the most obvious ways to see penalties have yet to be implemented because they might not what? Get a 5th yacht?

    The greed of the NFL makes it harder to watch every year.

  15. Unintended consequences meaning the last 100 years of NFL games were all a sham. The fear of being caught in a lie outweighs the truth.

  16. College football has already solved this problem, it’s not hard, the NFL is just effing cheap

  17. How about a public display of accountability for the officials who blow the call? The two zebras who stood there and watched Nickell Robey-Coleman mug that Saints’ WR should have been fired…publicly…the next day.

  18. I am NOT normally a conspiracy guy, but I really believe that the NFL purposefully botched last year’s PI officiating experiment. The NFL powers that be did not want it, but felt the need to do it because of the fan pressure to do SOMETHING. So they set up the “experiment” and then kept changing how it would be officiated, causing it to fail. Now, when something like this comes up they can say, “Yeah, but we need to take it slow. Remember how the PI thing went when we made a quick change.”

  19. You fire or don’t hire the oversight committee when you have stuff to hide.

    Corruption 101

  20. As legalized gambling spreads (and that spread will likely be accelerated as states try to balance budgets post-pandemic), the financial consequences of bad calls to average Americans will intensify.

    *************

    What? This makes no sense. The point spread balances winners and losers in every game. For every bettor that loses due to an egregious mistake (which happens every week in the NFL) another bettor wins.

  21. andybgood says:
    May 28, 2020 at 9:07 am

    I am NOT normally a conspiracy guy, but I really believe that the NFL purposefully botched last year’s PI officiating experiment. The NFL powers that be did not want it, but felt the need to do it because of the fan pressure to do SOMETHING. So they set up the “experiment” and then kept changing how it would be officiated, causing it to fail. Now, when something like this comes up they can say, “Yeah, but we need to take it slow. Remember how the PI thing went when we made a quick change.”

    ——————————————————————————–
    This 1000%. It was actively made to fail. Hey, we tried. Shrugs shoulders.

  22. “It’s frustrating that the tools to get the job done right are available yet the league refuses to use them.”
    _______________

    Count ourselves as lucky because the right tools in the wrong hands do nothing but make an even bigger mess. They’ve never handled replay well and there is zero reason to believe this would be any different. The highpoint of replay review was when they first enacted it and claimed it’d only be used to overturn calls that were completely, 100% obviously wrong. Then about the second or third time it was used they started down the path of second guessing 50/50 calls and trying to “interpret” things that weren’t actually seen in the video.

  23. As usual, the league is missing the root of the problem. The current officiating model doesn’t work as efficiently as it should. Better training (read MORE), more transparency, and for god’s sake, ACCOUNTABILITY. All of these rules tweaks, year over year, are just band aids trying to fix a broken system.

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