NFL Network

There has to be a better way.

By Dan Gartland
September 13, 2019

There has to be a better way

The NFL goes to great lengths to attempt to ensure that every play is called correctly. It’s why every broadcast network has a rules expert on the payroll to explain the intricacies of the rulebook during replay reviews. You have seven guys in stripes on the field for every play, keeping a close eye on everything. And for anything they might miss, there are a dozen cameras trained on every inch of the field ready to be examined during an ever-growing list of reviewable plays. The refs still screw up all the time, of course, but what’s important to the NFL is that they appear to be doing everything in their power to get it right. 

And yet, this is still how we spot the ball. 

Spotting the ball is arguably the most important part of football. The rules of the game are all based upon the initial rule that you get four tries to advance the ball 10 yards. But what good is that most basic rule when the down judge just sort of guesses where the ball should go after the play?

While I think the human element is a good thing in matters of interpretation like an umpire’s strike zone, other sports have already introduced technology to solve this sort of problem. Tennis’ review system is frighteningly accurate and FIFA uses goal line technology to determine whether the entire ball has crossed the goal line. There has to be some way to make spotting the ball more consistent in the NFL. 

The play above came on a crucial third-and-4 just before the two minute warning. The Panthers had the ball and were trailing by six. If the ball had been spotted short of the line to gain, a failure to convert on fourth down would have essentially ended the game. The bad spot didn’t end up mattering too much in the grand scheme of things, but it did force Tampa Bay to make a goal line stand to win, so at least it gave us one exciting moment in another lousy Thursday night game. 

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