On booth umpire, Competition Committee advocates a half-measure

NFC Championship - Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints
Getty Images

The Ravens want to do a cannonball. The Competition Committee wants to simply dip a toe in the water.

At a time when the Ravens have proposed an eighth member of the officiating crew who would be in the replay booth and assist the seven on-field officials based on the available camera angles, the Competition Committee has proposed a watered-down version of the rule that simply enhances the game-day obligations of the replay official, allowing that person to assist the officiating crew with certain objective decisions, like whether a pass was completed.

It’s a mistake, for multiple reasons.

First, it fails to close the gap between the things the seven officials see on the field and the things that millions see at home. For years, we’ve argued that the league needs an extra official who sees what we see and who helps and supports the seven people who don’t. The eighth official ensures that any and all major blunders will be fixed before they become controversies — like, for example, the notorious non-call of defensive pass interference in the 2018 NFC Championship.

Under Baltimore’s prior proposal, the booth umpire would be able to fix that mistake. Under the Competition Committee’s proposal, the replay official would not be able to fix that mistake.

Second, and as a source with extensive knowledge regarding the NFL’s overall officiating function told PFT, the replay official already has a lot to do. The source believes that the booth umpire/sky judge should be utilized in order to avoid adding to the replay official’s obligations. The source also believes that a booth umpire/sky judge should be utilized, even if that person only has the power to help with matters like 15-yard fouls for safety infractions (like illegal contact on a defenseless receiver) and pass interference calls and non-calls, with the possibility of limiting pass interference intervention to the later stages of a game or overtime.

Third, and as the source explained it, the NFL’s current officiating department does not support anything more than limited expansion of the duties of the replay official. That’s a huge mistake. The officiating department — from top to bottom — should want to have any and all devices available to avoid a controversy that would make those mistakes the focal point of media coverage and fan consternation into the following week. As more and more states legalize sports betting, the NFL and its officiating department must embrace, not shun, opportunities to avoid errors. There’s no better opportunity to do that than to have an extra member of the officiating crew, who would have the same power to caucus with the referee as the on-field officials currently have.

Fourth, and as the Ravens pointed out in the documents related to their proposal, the booth umpire/sky judge eventually will be adopted. That will happen, at the latest, after the next 2018 NFC Championship-style debacle, whenever it may be. So why not just accept that reality and do it now?

Legalized gambling demands that the NFL do all it can to ensure that all calls are gotten right. The Competition Committee, perhaps appropriately given the context, is opting to gamble with the cheaper option of adding more work to current employees and to assume that it will be enough to sidestep the next big officiating controversy.

But anyone who knows anything about pro football knows that the next big officiating controversy is always coming. If it would happen with a booth umpire/sky judge in place, the league could at least say that it’s doing everything in its power to avoid those outcomes.

The good news is that the Competition Committee doesn’t have nearly as much power and influence as most think it does. The owners ultimately decide on the rule changes that will or won’t be made. And the owners need to realize that, both for the good of the game and for the broader business protection against the eventual establishment of a federal agency aimed at providing oversight and regulation of pro football and other sports on which legalized wagering occurs, they must do everything they can to avoid the next Rams-Saints non-call nightmare.

The next logical step toward that end is adding a booth umpire or sky judge, who can help the seven people who don’t have access to a TV monitor fix any and all things that they fail to notice, while primarily trying to avoid being trampled by the players.

19 responses to “On booth umpire, Competition Committee advocates a half-measure

  1. the Goal of all officiating in any sport should be to get the call right. These officials in all sports gets these huge egos and some of them think fans are there to watch them. The NFL thinks bad officiating calls keeps the NFL in the conversation all week long, which it does. However, it is really bad to have horrible officiating in any sport if you want the game to be settled fairly and justly. If the NFL wants full transparency, which it doesn’t, refs should be made available to the media to answer to their bad calls, just like coaches and players do.

  2. I can recall several games where the outcome was decided because an on-field official blew the call. A couple of those games were in the playoffs. NFL players are almost superhuman and I think it’s really hard for officials to see everything that happens on the field. I agree with the Ravens. There should be an additional official in the booth who can see every replay just as TV viewers do and they can “buzz” down to the referee and correct or advise him/her that a call was missed or needs to be made. This is even more important now that betting on games is “legal.” I would’ve thought the Packers might have been “all in” on this proposal.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong but supporting your second point, isn’t there just ONE replay official handling ALL the games being played at a given time? Each game doesn’t already have its own replay official, correct?

  4. For once I agree! I also think that since most States have legalized marijuana use and legalized gambling, there should be a proposal to make prostitution legal on a national level. If we’re going to get screwed, might as well enjoy it!

  5. I think the reason the officiating department doesn’t support the idea of a sky judge, or expanding officiating capabilities, is that they’re afraid of losing the ‘human element’ of that part of the game. It’s an old-school attitude that can unnecessarily delay the inevitable. Adding more replay capabilities for officials can have the feeling of being over-done, but as the game and the world around it changes, the way it’s officiated has to eventually go along.

  6. They have to close the gap between what we see and what the officials see in real time. It is the greatest source of frustration in football fans.

  7. Be careful what you wish for. We all know that there are penalties committed on nearly every play, but of course most are not called (thank god). With a sky judge, the expectations will be higher, and there will be heavy scrutiny for the less than obvious infractions.

  8. The NFL should have created the sky judge position after the NFCCG debacle. That’s what would have demonstrated a desire to get the game calls right. It’s getting more and more obvious the owners don’t want to spend the money for an additional official. Poor things, they’re so broke as it is, right?. If the losing team in the 2018 game had been the Patriots or Cowboys (i.e., a “popular” team), the necessary changes might have been made. Because the Saints were the victims while playing the (at the time) newly up-and-coming Rams, the league only invested in a one-year experiment that was doomed by the replay officials’ decision not to overturn the call, no matter what visual evidence showed should be done. Real change won’t happen until a “popular” team loses because of horrible officiating (which is becoming more common every year).

  9. There’s a reason the NFL doesn’t want the players determining the outcomes of games or point spreads. It’s simple to fix it but they don’t want to. They’re not being open and honest. They have their reasons. I see a lot of fans wearing jerseys to games, but I don’t recall seeing anyone dressed in a referees jersey. So it’s not the fans who like the refs determine the outcome. Must have something to do with gambling

  10. The entire officiating system is broken. It was conceived in a time when the only apparatus for seeing things in motion was a pair of eyes. Why is that still the preferred method for an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars in 2021?

    Judgment calls will always be an issue because someone has to make a black or white choice in an inherently gray area. But to just “miss” something? There’s no excuse for that.

  11. How long do you want these games to last? “The Gamblers!!! The Gamblers!!!” must please them at all costs..no matter how long it takes!!!. I pray to God some common sense prevails and the deeply cynical viewpoints fall by the wayside.( Why would the Bears vote against 17 games? what is wrong with them?? Isn’t money EVERYTHING!!!) Three coaches challenges a game..that is MORE than enough. Getting it 100% right,all the time ,just so
    ‘The Gamblers” don’t get upset, is recipe for a NBA, end-of-games disaster. Was the toe down or not? better take a good long look!! The toe WAS DOWN!!! Where to place the ball?? Let’s take another look!!!!
    Bad calls, Good calls, all calls, they even out…Every team will get hosed every season.
    Pace and rhythm of the game is important too…

  12. The Bills and Saints need new stadiums. EXPAND TO SAN ANTONIO AND ST. LOUIS!! In the name in God, expand the league!!

  13. I definitely want a sky judge to review all challenges, turnovers, and TD’s. I definitely do not want a sky judge buzzing down because he thinks there was PI on any given play. I also do not like Officials reviewing their own plays. Too much internal pressure to not overturn themselves or their buddies.

  14. novelist says:
    April 2, 2021 at 10:32 am
    If the losing team in the 2018 game had been the Patriots or Cowboys (i.e., a “popular” team), the necessary changes might have been made. Because the Saints were the victims
    The Saints cheated for an entire season and got a SB win out of it. They are hardly the victims of anything.

  15. Add the sky judge, and then eliminate all replay reviews except for the 2 that each coach gets per game. That will speed the game up significantly.

  16. You can get every call correct without slowing down the game. In fact, it would be faster than what it is today. I can sit on my couch with just my one TV angle, and get most calls correct before the ball ever rolls dead. If I had a radio, I could talk to the guys on the field in real time, and tell them which call to make. Not wait for a “guess” call, and then do some long, outdated review. We had the technology 25 years ago to do this. If I can do what I can do from my couch, imagine what a team of refs, with multiple monitors and angles, could do from the booth. The NFL just doesn’t want the players determining the outcomes. I’m 100% OK with human error, but this has nothing do do with human error. It’s about fixing games, and that is just un-American. Would you want the pilot of your airplane to rely on “human error”, or do you like using radar, and other technologies? Do you travel across the country in horse and buggy, or do use airplanes? Do you use your cell phone to get directions, or do you drive around in circles all day trying to find your destination? I’d like to see you anti-tech people be true to your word and throw away all your gadgets.

  17. I challenge all the “get it right,all the time” crowd to watch the last ten minutes(game clock time)of a typical NCAA or NBA game.Thirty minutes of Torture. Div.1 NCAA football is heading that direction.All close plays .White hat Ref intones “last play is under review”, lumbers off to headset land..
    Somehow…someway…Pro Football,A GAME always played under three hours, THRIVED for decades in lo tech hell.It’s this foundation that is a risk with Zupruder like,forensic analysis of close plays at end of games.
    make the call move on

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.