How will technology affect officiating?

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Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira was the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2004-09, having spent the five seasons previous to that as the league's Director of Officiating. He also served as an NFL game official when he acted as a side judge for two seasons (1997-98). Follow him on Twitter.


Stars and stripes. The NFL always will be about both, whether you're talking today or 2020.

After offensive stars set record after record this past season, I'm going to try to have 20/20 vision, if you will, when it comes to seeing the future. What will the game of football look like in the next eight years? Will there be more technology? Will there be more guys in striped shirts? Will replay expand or maybe even contract?

I need to look backward before I can go forward.

Before radical changes are made to the game, the NFL's powerful competition committee discusses them. For example, the NFL first began to use instant replay in preseason in 1978. It wasn't until 1986 that it was brought into use for the regular season. It imploded in 1991 for a number of reasons. It wasn't until 1999 that they brought it back as the system we know today.

So, what has the committee been talking about over the past few years? I will give you some insight and my opinion on where things are headed.

Let's talk technology first.

Do you like watching the game on television and being able to see the unofficial yellow first-down line? If you do, there is at least one company that has proposed to do the same thing in the stadium so the people in the stands can see the same thing. It also would help players to have a line stretching across the field indicating where they have to get for a first down.

Seems like a good idea, right? Well, not in my book.

Can you imagine an official having to mark a close spot and putting the ball down one inch short of the visible yellow line? He would be vilified no matter what he does. His integrity would be questioned each time. Even if the line goes away as soon as the ball becomes dead, the accusations of impropriety would be common.

How about the suspense of seeing two members of a chain crew trot out on to the field with a set of chains and setting up to measure for a first down? Tradition, right? Accurate? Maybe not. So how about lasers attached to sideline markers that instantly determine whether the ball was spotted beyond or short of the line to gain? It will save time, that’s for sure.


Everybody loves the NFL, even celebrities. See A-list actors and recording artists on the sidelines.

But I'm a traditionalist. I like the suspense of stretching the chains and slowly setting the front stake. I'll take the extra time and maybe a bit of accuracy to maintain the human element.

And what about putting a microchip in the balls to accurately determine if the ball breaks the goal line plane? It certainly has been discussed by many, most of them fans and not realists.

I have a hard time with this because even if the ball breaks the plane, it doesn't mean it's a touchdown. If you are a receiver in the end zone, you have to complete the process of the catch. If you are a runner, you can't have any part of your body touching the ground other than your hands or feet when the ball breaks the plane. What do you do? Puts chips in offensive players' knee, forearms, and elbows? I don't like this idea and it has gotten very little consideration.

Tired of false starts? How about putting speakers in the helmets of offensive linemen so they could hear the quarterback's cadence? They commit the most false starts, especially the tackles. This would eliminate the crowd noise issue. This has gotten a lot of discussion. Discussion also broached putting speakers in receivers' helmets, which might virtually eliminate the need for the huddle as we know it today.

The expansion of technology will continue to find its way into the game. But nothing will be as big as developing a hand-held device to enhance the in-stadium experience for fans who don't get the benefit of watching what fans at home see on TV.

The device enables fans to view instant replays from multiple angles, keep track of out-of-town games, get real-time stats from around the league, access NFL RedZone, get live fantasy football updates, and watch on-demand video from their home team and the network telecast of the event they're at.

The league needs fans in the seats at the stadiums and is very cognizant of this issue. The implementation of this technology already has started and is not far down the road.


The annual Super Bowl Media Day always turns into a circus.

Now, about officiating.

Will the crew of officials expand from seven to eight? The NFL started in 1920 with three officials. They went to four in 1929, five in 1947, six in 1965 and seven in 1978. Look for there to be eight in the not-too-distant future, and one of them will be full-time.

I also see a change coming in instant replay. The challenge system will remain the same, but there has been enough discussion to suggest that the decisions will be made by the replay official upstairs without the referee going under the hood. The overriding reason is to save time.

So what might 2020 bring? You’ll still have the stars … you’ll still have the stripes, only more … and speaking of more, you’ll have more technological changes, which all should add up to making the games much quicker.

2020. Can’t wait.

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