Earlier this year, the Ravens proposed the use of a booth umpire, an extra member of the officiating crew who would assist the on-field officials with getting the calls right, courtesy of the available TV angles.
It needs to happen. We’ve been advocating for it for years. Most notably, a booth umpire would have instructed the on-field officials to call defensive pass interference in the Rams-Saints 2018 NFC Championship.
If the league had done the right thing and the smart thing by adopting the Baltimore proposal, the booth umpire would have gotten a baptism by fire on Thursday night in Tampa.
Several mistakes made by the on-field officials could have been quickly rectified by the booth umpire. For example, Bucs linebacker Lavonte David removed and threw his helmet after a third-down play, which should have triggered a fresh first down for Dallas, was missed by the officials. The booth umpire could have caught it. A phantom face mask tacked onto a defensive pass interference call against the Cowboys could have been promptly rectified.
On the drive that put Dallas ahead late, the Cowboys blatantly held Tampa Bay defensive tackle Vita Vea on the play that pushed the road team into field-goal range. Of course, that missed call was balanced out a few minutes later.
A booth umpire easily could have called offensive pass interference on Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin during the effort that put Tampa Bay in range to win the game.
Of course, the question is whether it would have been called. Former NFL referee Terry McAulay said during the NBC broadcast that the conduct from Godwin fit the definition of interference (“it sure looks to me like he extends and pushes off to create separation to make the catch”). And even if the right call would have been both defensive and offensive pass interference (since the defensive back initiated contact with Godwin before Godwin pushed off), the Cowboys gladly would have taken the Mulligan that would have come from offsetting fouls over the failure to call either foul.
The purpose of the booth umpire would be (or at least should be) to supplement the perspective of the officials who are in the mosh pit with an official who isn’t. The standard would be (or at least should be) for that person to tell the officials that there’s something they missed. It would need to happen quickly and efficiently; it couldn’t bog down the game. It would be (or at least should be) no different than the caucus that sometimes happens among officials before a final decision is announced.
Some may prefer the real-time imperfections of on-field officiating. As legalized gambling spreads, the broader objective inevitably will become doing whatever needs to be done to get the calls right. Whatever device the league employs to get there, it needs to get there.
Far too often, we accept bad calls as an inherent part of the game. Human error. That’s a copout. We have the ability to correct human error, in 80-inch 4K. With millions on the line through legitimized wagering from which the league will earn billions, it’s time to come up with a way to remove human error from the officiating function, once and for all.