At a time when the NFL will be considering an expansion of replay review to include roughing the passer, the best solution to clear and obvious blunders comes not from slamming the brakes on the game for a frame-by-frame search for forcible contact with the quarterback’s head (for example) but from putting an official in the same position as the millions watching at home.
Toward this end, the Ravens have again proposed a “booth umpire.” The goal is simple: To add an official who has access to all TV angles and who can help the on-field crew make the right calls.
PFT has obtained a copy of Baltimore’s submission to the Competition Committee, and Baltimore’s arguments remain very persuasive. The booth umpire would be expected to provide pertinent information to correct clear and obvious officiating errors of every type, with the directive of doing so without disrupting the normal timing of game administration.
Currently, officiating crews routinely caucus on the field when one official has seen something that another official hasn’t. The referee, who runs the crew, makes a decision.
The booth umpire would report to the referee, like all other crew members. The booth umpire would bridge the often wide gap between the things we all see on TV and the things the officials see on the field with the naked eye while trying to avoid being trampled.
How many times have we witnessed an official who is looking right at, for example, a receiver making a catch and blowing the ruling of whether the player did or didn’t get two feet down before going out of bounds? The booth umpire, seeing what the rest of us see, could quickly say to the referee that a clear and obvious mistake had been made.
It’s not replay review. It’s active officiating via TV angles. The replay process would remain, as an added level of protection against mistakes. In many cases, replay review wouldn’t even be needed, because the mistake would be caught by the booth umpire.
So who would become booth umpires? As the Ravens note, the league would be able to employ “valuable officiating minds” who may no longer want to be on the field.
It’s hard to come up with strong arguments against having a “booth umpire.” The eighth member of the crew actively helps his or her seven colleagues by preventing mistakes from remaining mistakes. Every on-field official should want this and would benefit from it.
And here’s the inescapable reality. Eventually, the booth umpire will be adopted. (Indeed, the spread of legal gambling will make it a necessity.) So, as the Ravens argue, why not do it now?
The league is notoriously reactive. Booth umpire is both reactive and proactive. It’s reactive because it’s the right response to the Rams-Saints pass interference debacle and the blown calls that are making roughing the passer possibly eligible for replay review. It’s proactive because it goes beyond the normal confines of tweaking the formal replay process.