Eventually, the NFL will do the right thing when it comes to assisting its on-field officials. The sooner the NFL does it, the better off the NFL will be.
The right thing to do is to embrace sky judge. Or booth umpire. Or whatever name the league chooses to apply to the use of a video official who actively assists the on-field officials in all aspects of officiating.
The absence of the ability to mesh what the officials see with the naked eye while trying to avoid being trampled by the players with what the rest of us see at home allowed a bad call to go unrectified on Monday night, fueling what became the game-winning drive for the Chiefs. With the Chiefs facing second and 15 from their own 24 with 4:22 to play, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a catch and run that put the ball at the 38. The officials thought they saw Kelce’s facemask get yanked, a flag came out, and the Chiefs ended up 15 yards closer, with a first and 10 at the New York 47.
The only problem is that no one had touched Kelce’s facemask.
If the NFL had a procedure in place to allow a member of the officiating crew who sits in the booth and sees the various available camera angles to assist the folks on the field, the flag would have been picked up, and the Chiefs would have faced third and short from their own 38. While the Chiefs may have converted and continued and ultimately scored, an unwarranted gift in the amount of 15 percent of the 100-yard gridiron made it a lot easier to accelerate the process of scoring the field goal that put the Chiefs ahead for good.
It’s an inexcusable situation, regardless of the league’s effort to excuse the failure to embrace the concept of supplemental officiating via images that are piped into millions of homes, and onto millions of phones. They’ll say it’s too expensive, at a time when the owners are paying their pin cushion $64 million per year. They’ll say that there may be “unintended consequences,” which is code for, “We can’t be counted on to not screw up the design or the execution. I mean, look at what happened when we tried to make pass interference reviewable by replay.”
Whatever the precise parameters of the powers of a sky judge (the league would say that it doesn’t want the sky judge to have the power to call holding away from the play, for example), the sky judge would be able to speak to the referee, and to tell the referee to pick up the flag.
As the Ravens explained when proposing a full-blown booth umpire earlier this year, it’s just a matter of time before it’s adopted, so why not do it now? If the league had done it, the phantom facemask foul that gave the Chiefs a free 15 yards with the game on the line would have been fixed, quickly, cleanly, and efficiently.
The integrity of the game depends on it. The integrity of the wagers placed through the seven sportsbooks that are now official partners of the NFL depends on it. With Congress already pestering the NFL over its handling of the Washington Football Team investigation, it’s just a matter of time before Congress pursues the league over the readily fixable officiating flaws that affect the outcome of games — and that, more importantly, impact the outcome of betting on games.
The sooner the league makes spending the time and effort on addressing this problem a major priority, the better off the game will be. The only question is whether they do it before or after a sufficiently large scandal results in members of Congress sending another letter to the Commissioner with a variety of questions that the league would prefer not to answer in a public setting, with no ability to rush the microphone to someone who would hopefully change the subject.