August 6th, 2010 at 10:17 AM ^

Good if it works, but you know somebody will find a way to spoof it or otherwise manipulate the technology.  Plus, most refs seem like they have enough trouble making decisions on the field with replay as a backup; if they rely on a watch to tell them when a first down occurs (and there are quite a few instances when it might fire off incorrectly), expect just as much controversy on close calls.  You can't really "out-technology" a game that, by its nature, has a large gray area.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:24 AM ^

There's no way we're going to get sensors that make calls on pass interference or anything like that, but for goal-line and first down situations I can't see a downside to it. They'd still have to rule on whether the ball carrier had possession or not, but getting a beep if the ball goes over the line would be incredibly helpful.


August 6th, 2010 at 12:19 PM ^

I can see the value in a beep over the first-down line, but even that line moves around (humans on the sidelines do shift), and I guess I'm of the belief that referees have a hard enough time without another, external source affecting their judgment.  I'm fine with replay because it (in theory) comes after they have made a decision, but with the first down ping it may alter their opinion in such a way that the opposing team will challenge, effectively negating the "streamlining" it provides.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:21 AM ^

This is an interesting concept IMO.  It would tell the ref when the ball crosses a  a first down or goal line.  It wouldn't be able to tell if a player's knee was down at the time the ball crossed the line.  It takes some of the guesswork out of getting calls correct, but it is by no means a perfect solution.  It would be a good addition to  the instant replay system.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:28 AM ^

Problem is, this isn't a "debate." It's a rule. If you get the ball over the line, you deserve the first down or the touchdown. To say that the game would be worse off if we could suddenly get every one of those calls correct is a strange position to take.

turd ferguson

August 6th, 2010 at 10:47 AM ^

two things that i don't worry about with college football are (1) not having a human element in the game and (2) not having anything to debate. college football is great human theater, and almost none of that is because the refs might mess up a goal line call.

replay debates always seem to be met with an initial "ew, i don't like this" that eventually gives way to an "of course we should do that."


August 6th, 2010 at 10:27 AM ^

I am sort of old school.  I like the game the way it is - bring out the sticks to make the call, and 9 times out of 10 it is correct.  When it is not, hopefully this balances out over the course of the season. 

Not saying that I don't lose it when a bad call hurts Michigan, but sometimes I think that this type of tech takes the human element out of the game.

(By the way, I reserve the right to revise my opinion the first time that a ref blows a first down call against Michigan this season).


August 6th, 2010 at 10:32 AM ^

While we're at it, could they do the same thing for players' shoes and/or knees of the pants? This could make crossing the goal line, out-of-bounds, first downs, etc much easier to call.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:35 AM ^

If we put microchips in the ball then we better have all the players wear those little sensors all over their bodies so we know when they go down. Better put a microchip in the referee's whistle so we know when he blows it.  If that is going to be the case we should just all watch the computer play itself in NCAA 11


August 6th, 2010 at 11:00 AM ^

Pretty much because it's REALLY hard to do. 

First of all, you have to add things to the football without changing it at all. Whatever weight the chips, wiring, transmitter, etc. have has to be negated elsewhere in the ball. If the ball feels/flies ANY different, players will freak (see the NBA with their new ball). So there's that. 

Also - all of the electronics need to work for a huge range of temperatures, humidities, etc. Will the chip still work on a snowy day? If we protect it from moisture, does that add more weight? And similar to those conditions, a football gets thrown at 70+MPH, kicked, punted (to space by one), fumbled, punched, etc. So whatever weightless electronics we put in the ball have to handle all of that too.

Another issue is the chip knowing the dimensions of the football. Football isn't like hockey, the whole ball doesn't have to cross the plane, just a part. And footballs get carried all kinds of ways (they're spotted point first, but if we're getting this really right the side of the football can break the plane without the points) and the chip has to "Know" the outer walls of the football and where they are at all times. If it were in a round ball, the chip could know a radius all around it and know where the sphere of the ball is, but since a football is oddly shaped, this is harder.

These are some of the physical questions without even delving into the actual electronics themselves - how powerful would the transmitter be? can it go through players/pads/bodies/etc? It can't mess with any other technology (coaches' radios, fans' phones) and has to comply to all the other stuff I already mentioned. You'd have to design new "sticks" as well to read the ball, and their plane is another whole set of issues - remember, sticks get knocked over, deal with the weather, interference, etc. 

There are probably quite a few more engineering issues I'm not even mentioning here. I'm an ME and just thinking. I'm sure that EEs or CSEs would have thought of different problems with it.

I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that the problem is a big, complex one. 


August 6th, 2010 at 11:08 AM ^

As an EE/CSE this is all 100% true. All of my arguments thus far have been assuming that all of these issues get taken care of. Positioning algorithms alone can be incredibly complex, especially if you're attempting to track a ball down to some ridiculously tiny interval. If it's 1mm over the line it counts? If you get the ball back over the goal line by 1mm you avoid a safety? Is 1mm too small? Too big? It seems like it should be pretty straightforward, but the number of things that need to be accounted for are mindboggling. Watching the soccer demo, though, it seems that they've taken care of most of those issues at least for a sphere, so I'd guess they could do it eventually with a football.


August 6th, 2010 at 11:12 AM ^

I just have had this argument before, and many times people don't realize that so many different aspects have to go into this. I remember one of my first days in Eng 100 at U of M hearing that most car seats have over 100 components... and just realizing THAT planning nightmare. 

The short version of my above post: If things were easy, they'd have been done by now


August 6th, 2010 at 11:21 AM ^

"If it were in a round ball, the chip could know a radius all around it and know where the sphere of the ball is, but since a football is oddly shaped, this is harder."

I'm not nitpicking by any means since I agree with all your points, but if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of it, you'd also have to account for compression of the ball, even with a soccer ball where this constant radius assumption is used.


August 6th, 2010 at 11:57 AM ^

You assume that all of the complexity needs to go into the ball. On the contrary, the ball can be quite "stupid" so long as it's possible to detect it somehow. I would suspect most of the high technology would go into sensors placed around the field, while the ball would have some sort of simple transmitter(s) - something like RFID technology perhaps. It may even be possible to design something entirely passive (from the ball's perspective). Basically, the ball doesn't need to "know" anything.

It doesn't make it easy, but it does make it a lot easier to deal with the concerns of mass and delicacy of components in the ball itself.


August 6th, 2010 at 4:01 PM ^

No, he understands that the logic can be done outside the ball; it still needs reasonably complex sensors because the ball is such a 'weird' shape.

As a CS researcher who uses RFID, my experience is that it's not nearly precise enough to solve this problem; there's just way too much going on around the ball that will affect how the radio waves are transmitted and thus the system's guess of where the ball is.  Remember that RFID chips are really only designed to say "I'm nearby" not "I'm in this direction, this far away."  At least there wouldn't be much metal on the field (are metal leg braces allowed?) because metal is just about the worst thing out for RFID, but the human bodies involved should be enough to completely through things off, especially when you're in a pile--unfortunately when the technology is most needed.

That said, I don't develop the RFID chips/work on the electronics, I just use them experimentally (which takes less detailed knowledge of the radio waves), and I only use passive chips, so there may be someone whose knowledge trumps mine and disagrees with me.


August 6th, 2010 at 4:42 PM ^

RFID per se wouldn't be the best solution (mostly because of read distance), but RFID technology does demonstrate the ability to develop simple, durable, cheap, and lightweight transmitters. And you can determine the location of an RFID, you just need multiple receivers. This is the key -the signal itself doesn't need to contain any information at all. This means the ball doesn't need to know where it is. Aircraft and marine transponders work on a similar pricipal. Basically, you just need a transmitter in the ball capable of being received by antennas on the sidline.

To deal with ball shape, I'd suggest placing a transmitter in each tip of the ball - which happen to be the most rigid parts of the ball. These two points would describe the ball's symmetric axis, allowing the outer surface to be determined. Each transmitter would send out a unique (and possibly encrypted) identifier. Multiple antennas around the field would triangulate the position, and could probably do so several thousand times a second if necessary.


August 6th, 2010 at 12:37 PM ^

All these are good points but I think the reason why this hasn't happened is because there was no market for it. Every issue that you bring has been taking care of in the original soccer ball. This is not some revolutionary invention and I doubt that because the ball is oval and not round is a problem. The soccer ball is already working and I'm pretty sure they can adapt the shape to an oval ball. The question is; do we use it? I'll say, yes! Why not?


August 6th, 2010 at 10:36 AM ^

This is why the NFL is leading all major sports. Always looking for ways to improve the game. Meanwhile, MLB wonders they're falling further and further behind...


August 6th, 2010 at 10:44 AM ^

At first glance, this seems like it won't help all that much.  As someone above noted, crossing a first-down marker or goal line isn't the only question.  It's a combination of things (was the knee down, was he out of bounds, did he have possession) that have to be considered when making the right call.  I fear that if a ref hears his watch beeping he'll automatically throw his arms up.

This will definitely help in certain situations where those factors aren't in play, but overall it might just add more confusion.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:46 AM ^

I don't see how it makes any situations more confusing... There will always be a number of variables that go into a call, and this completely removes one of them. If the ball didn't go over the line, it's not a touchdown no matter what. If it did go over the line, then it's time to check everything else.

turd ferguson

August 6th, 2010 at 10:53 AM ^

i agree. this is like how first base umpires in baseball apparently watch the base and listen for the ball to hit the glove (something i didn't realize until the perfect game fiasco). if, for a goal line play, the ref can focus his eyes on when a player is down, having something else indicate whether the ball crossed the line before that point will only help.


August 6th, 2010 at 12:05 PM ^

I see your point, but how is that worse than what we have now? Now there's a pile of players, the refs drag them off of each other while they fight over the ball, and the ref sort of guesses where the ball was when the ball carrier went down. With the beep, the ref will know when the ball crosses the line, so if it happens well after said pile forms, he'll know that he definitely shouldn't call a touchdown. It doesn't solve issues of whether the runner was down or verify posession, but it doesn't make those calls any harder than they are now. It adds information and takes none away.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:56 AM ^

This could end up being confusing as the ball may cross a line while someone is down, doesn't have possession, etc. As long as this information is in addition to what they already use, then it helps make the right call.

Being a digital system, it also seems that they could synchronize the clock on the computer monitoring the microchip in the ball with the video replay system. This would really help by tying that into the overall replay system.


August 6th, 2010 at 10:46 AM ^

I always find it strange when they "bring out the sticks" to make a precise measurement of whether the spot where the ref guessed the ball ought to go is good for a first down.  They can measure that spot as precisely as they want, but it's still based on an estimate to begin with.

Seems like you'd need at least two microchips in a football, because in addition to location you'd have to determine orientation, since a football isn't round.


August 6th, 2010 at 11:10 AM ^

One of the primary reasons that football has become the dominant sport in America is because of their willingness to explore and embrace change, and technology is only one area of this.  This will help improve the game.  There isn't a downside to it.  The attitude that technology hurts the game has killed the MLB and Soccer in recent years, and the controversy turns Americans off of those sports.  You may enjoy debating class, but the majority of Americans would rather know for certain that their team either deserved to win or didn't.  America was built on the concept that you work hard and you earn whatever you get, and this technology helps to get each team what they deserve to get.

Now, will it be perfect?  Of course not, but done right it can be a great tool.  I don't think you should allow the refs on the field to have the ability to know the results the chip is showing, at least not during the play.  This would likely lead to refs waiting to hear from the chip, and extending plays beyond the length they should be.  Instead, the chips should be part of the current replay system.  In addition to measuring position, the chips will have times stamps that are coordinated with the time stamps on the various replay cameras.  If a play is challenged where the chip can be utilized, the ref would simply watch the replay, determine when the play was dead, either by a whistle or by evidence of the ball carrier being down on the replay, then compare that time to the time the chips registered the ball crossing whatever line they are going for (assuming they got it, if not then obviously watching the replay isn't needed).   I think this is the perfect use for the chips.

931 S State

August 6th, 2010 at 12:04 PM ^

Chips in the actual football is only the tip of the iceberg. The role of on field referees will probably look very different in 10, 15, 20 years. New technology being applied to various aspects of the game will be a good thing. It's definitely in the realm of possibility that things like traditional down-and-distance markers, chains, and video replay will be things of the past in 20 years (especially in the NFL with their seemingly endless supply of funds). Goodell is a visionary, the polar opposite of Selig. The application of technology will have growing pains, just like any change , but eventually it will improve the quality of the game.


August 6th, 2010 at 11:13 AM ^

What if the chip stops working in the middle of the game?  Do you just stop the game there and finish another day?  Can't referee a game half with a microchip and half without.  Refs would start to rely on this too much.  Unless....we could get robots to be referees.


August 6th, 2010 at 11:27 AM ^

You're right. We shouldn't have started using cars because now everyone's lazy and never runs anywhere.

Obviously there would have to be a ton of testing and verification before they'd begin using this type of thing in live games, but there are an insane number of other things that fall under the exact same category: What if the shot clock stops working in basketball? What if the coaches' headsets aren't working in football? What if the pin counter stops working in bowling? In those cases you revert back to using a stopwatch, yelling out plays without the headsets, and counting pins by hand, but that's no reason not to use the technology if it's available and proven reliable.


August 6th, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

Those are in no way "the exact same".  Counting pins in bowling and seeing where a ball hits the ground in a game of inches in real time is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

And despite your sarcasm, I think an argument could definitely be made that we should not be driving cars, seeing as how fat Americans have become.