Thursday night’s game between the 49ers and the Titans included a face mask penalty in the first half that clearly did not involve any face mask contact. As reported on Twitter at the time, this is precisely the kind of mistake on the pitch that a full-fledged Sky Judge (or a Range Umpire, or whatever title that would be used) could rectify.
We have the feeling that the NFL is moving in this direction. This year, the NFL expanded the ability of the proofread assistant and / or the league office to fix things without a full proofread overhaul. The rules allow consultation and / or advice and / or a truncated review of the replay as to “specific and objective aspects of a play where clear and obvious video evidence is present”. The process can also be used “to troubleshoot game administration issues”.
Relevant elements for the modified sky-judge process, from 2021, include: (a) the application of sanctions; (b) good behavior; (c) the point of a foul; (d) the game clock; (e) possession; (f) completed or intercepted pass; (g) touch a free ball, a boundary line, a goal line or a baseline; (h) the location of the soccer ball or of a player in relation to a demarcation line, the line of scrimmage, the winning line or the goal line; or (i) down by contact (when a player is not eliminated by contact on the field).
It’s straight from the rulebook, and it’s a wide array of potential video fixes. But it’s not as comprehensive as it should be – as evidenced by the fact that Thursday night’s face mask foul clearly didn’t happen, but there was no way it was. rectify.
The NFL has justifiable concerns about the appropriate standard for altering decisions on the field and / or “unintended” consequences (often a crutch for “unimaginable”, as in “we haven’t considered even if we should have”) . As we have argued for years, the Sky Judge / Range Umpire should be a full member of the officials team, with the specific mandate of bridging the gap between what field officials see and what the rest of us see at home. If this is how it is configured, it may work well.
It may work better than the current system, which tolerates too many mistakes which are obvious mistakes because even though the officials on the pitch didn’t see it, everyone who was watching at home saw it. The sooner the gap is closed, the more strongly fans will believe that the officiating has improved.