How Technology Could End Controversial Calls In The NFL

Why equipping refs with similar technology we have at home could make calling the games a bit more fair.

Think back to the last time you were watching an NFL game and saw a contentious play. Did the ball really cross the goal line? Is fourth and inches or a first down? How long did it take the referees to make a call and did they even get it right?

With technologies like state of the art TVs connected to the Internet, tablets for live tweets and second-screen video, plus broadcast overlays like the virtual first down line, many of us at home are better equipped than referees to see what really happens on the field and diagnose it in real-time. While broadcast cameras are always focused on the ball and can view the action from multiple angles, referees might be on the wrong side of the field with only a line-of-sight view.

We thought this was a little unfair, especially considering the referees are the ones responsible for calling the game. What new technologies could help refs better officiate a clean, debate-free NFL game and save them at least a little grief from fans in the process?

One challenge referees face is determining whether or not a football broke the plane of the endzone. Touchdown calls can swing the entire outcome of a game, but by using a chip similar to what’s inside the soccer ball above, referees could track a football’s exact location anywhere on the field. The NFL has recently been in discussions with Cairos Technologies, a leading German manufacturer of ball-tracking systems, about implementing a series of cables under the field of play that a chip-embedded football could detect. The ball’s location would then be transmitted to a central computer that would notify referees via a watch-like gadget if it crossed a particular line. Another option developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University imbeds a GPS and accelerometer unit into the ball so that it could report where it is without the cables. In addition to helping refs make calls, these systems could integrate with current sport visualization technologies to highlight where the ball is for viewers at home.


While we at home watch with multiple devices and constantly chat about the game to friends, it seems a bit archaic that refs have to run across the field to discuss a call with each other. Back in December 2011, NFL officials began discussions to wirelessly connect referees, and even players, for instant communication that would reduce gametime lulls like huddling and conferencing. In fact, SEC officials began using wireless microphones in August, but has yet to make it to the NFL. The ability to maintain constant communication would help to keep the game flowing and entertaining, which could also help improve audience retention (something advertisers would love). 

Will refs be able to call Super Bowl 2013 without contention? Continue reading the rest of this story at iQ by Intel.

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