Okay, I know it’s been quiet on this site, and by quiet I mean “absolutely dead.” I’ve been a part of the problem and I mean to correct that. For now let’s start by giving a shout out to the most entertaining tight end in all of football, Chris Cooley, who landed a guest spot in Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback this week.
It’s actually quite good.
One suggestion he makes is the concept of using GPS technology to eliminate the guesswork in Ref calls. If you put a GPS device in the football and can compare it to relative locations to markers on the field (say, end zone markers, first down markers, whatever) he asserts that the Ed Hochuli blunders would be a thing of the past. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but certainly it’s an idea worth exploring. Personally, even if we ignore cost issues and assume (as he suggests) that the NFL can easily afford it, I see two major problems.
- Most GPS devices are reasonably fragile. Dropping them on the ground can damage the integrity of the system, and a football has to endure being kicked, thrown, bounced, tackled, and smashed into regularly. From what I understand, one of the problems with the new radio helmets for the QB’s and defensive leaders is that they get damaged during play. If a simple radio system is difficult to keep operational in the field of play, I can’t imagine a sophisticated grid of GPS devices will be an easy task for an organization that sometimes has trouble managing the game clock.
- Even if the above obstacles are overcome, there will still be the need for judgment calls. Knowing if the player crossed the line isn’t enough. Often, the decision is often more complicated; it’s not just deciding if the ball crossed the line but deciding if the ball crossed the line before the player’s knee hit the ground or before their foot went out of bounds. What you’d really need is to have the GPS system timed in synch with the cameras. If you can determine from the replay the exact moment a player’s knee goes down and then compare that time to the GPS records to see if the ball had crossed the line before that moment, that would obviously be huge. This of course makes the task that much more daunting (and probably expensive).
- Unless something has changed, I believe there’s a limit to how accurate a GPS system is allowed to be for security reasons.
Still, just because it doesn’t solve ALL our problems doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea. It certainly seems like technology that would be worth investigating. I would think it could be potentially profitable to the NFL as well. Not only would they save some embarrassment by reducing the number of bad calls, but you could have new GPS features on your NFL.com site and ESPN.com. Maybe fans could download a web application so they can see the exact pattern the ball took during every play. The Television shows could show new graphics and illustrations to show exactly what happened to the ball during each play. You might also let coaches analyze patterns and player tendencies more accurately and make recording statistics more automated. There’s really a lot of potential benefits.
Let’s just hope the NFL can be half as creative as Chris Cooley.