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How Technology Made Us Hate NFL Officials

It’s a common lament after any loss — the officials decided the game. Bad calls changed the outcome. Clear mistakes were made.

Sure, part of it is sour grapes. Calls go both ways, but the fans of the losing team latch onto each bad call as a “what could have been” moment. Fans of the winning team forget about that bad pass interference call in the third quarter or that ball that crossed the goal line and then wasn’t ruled a touchdown.

The real problem is that football fans are simply much more aware of right and wrong calls than they have ever been before. And we have nothing to blame but technology.

Go to an NFL game and buy an average seat. Spend $150. Then watch just how hard it is to see the little details in real time. If a player’s toe touches down just barely out of bounds and the ref misses it, so do the fans at the game. If the player is pushing the pile forward, swarmed by 21 other bodies, and the ref isn’t sure if the ball crossed the goal line or not, neither are the fans.

At home, though, the 60-inch flat screen TV gives 12 different views in crystal-clear resolution. Instant replays are slowed down and paused. Most views are so good it’s almost as if one is standing on the field, not in the stands at all.

Suddenly, those toes on the white line or that nose of the ball just barely breaking the goal line become much more obvious. Fans everywhere throw their hands up and yell at the TV and complain that the refs can’t get it right.

It's not just fans who get frustrated with officials.

It’s not just fans who get frustrated with officials.

There seems to be this idea that the refs just aren’t that good anymore. That they always get calls wrong these days, and they need more training. But the refs aren’t any worse. They’ve always been this way. The fans just didn’t know it before.

Video games are also partially to blame. In the video game world, the computer knows exactly where the ball is. Even if the running back is unable to be seen at the bottom of the pile, the game still knows the second that ball breaks the plane. Touchdown.

Yes, there are glitches. Everyone has seen ridiculous things that happen when video games go wrong. But, for the most part, there is this level of perfection that only a computer can achieve. The computer doesn’t have to look to decide if the player reached out and touched the pylon with the ball or not. It just knows, instantly.

That’s been part of the drive for sensors in footballs. There has been talk over the years about putting one in the nose of the ball that activates a signal when it crosses the goal line. It’s simply an attempt to replicate the computerized world of a video game where, as long as there aren’t any glitches, there also aren’t all that many questions.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently asked the NFL to use more cameras—there’s a joke in there somewhere—and they’re looking into it. According to ESPN, the cost is probably going to stand in the way.

However, the only way officials can ever hope to keep up with technology is to use that technology themselves. As long as fans at home have a better view than the refs, there will be plenty of complaining about blown calls in every game, every week. The NFL should try to crunch the numbers to at least get dedicated goal line cameras, if nothing else, as that seems like an obvious fix that should have been implemented years ago.

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