Sep 292014
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Question:  What do goal lines, field goal posts, first downs and out-of-bounds punts all have in common?  

Answer:  With respect to football placement, in many situations, they still involve some level of human guessing. 

Instant replay has helped the game immeasurably.  I dare say that when applied to past NFL history, that technology would have resulted in new winners, losers and champions.  So we know that technology helps to bring certainty, and I now put forth the idea in an entirely new way.


How many times during a football game does a referee guess at:

  • The exact spot of the ball, with respect to forward progress
  • If the football broke the plane of the goal line
  • Exactly where an out-of-bounds punt crossed the sideline
  • Whether a field goal was inside or outside of the post



525px-TDOA_GeometryFootball computer-chip insertion and football field computer mapping.   Here a very tiny set of computer chips are implanted on the inside both ends of the football – just outside the bladder of the ball, but inside the nose.

Next, create a mapping system, for locating the ball within the field.  GPS doesn’t work indoors, due to bouncing off roofs walls and other structures – and it is not very accurate.  Therefore, we would need to utilize a grid-based system, where a dense network of low-range (ultrawideband) receivers would be planted into the playing field.  Techniques used within this system would include localization using Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA) – also known as ‘multilateration’.

This system would be mapped to a specific computer-based image of the football field, passing on location results as pixel points on this field map.  So when the any transmitting chip, on either end of the football breaks through  and pass on location results as exact points on this image.  This would also include receivers placed on the tops of field goal posts.  Effectively, the entire field would be ‘covered’ by an electronic grid network.

So now:

  • The punter shanks the kick…now WE KNOW where it’s to be spotted.
  • We can be sure that within a large pile of players at the goal line, the running back DIDN’T break the plane of the goal line.
  • The tip of the ball DID in fact reach the first down marker with forward progress on the pass.

This is the beauty inherent in having specific location points of the football during every game.  This would optimize many of the the remaining mistakes, which are too valuable to leave in the hands, opinions and judgement of the officials.  Google, NCAA, and NFL…feel free to reach out to get this started.  My son and I will be happy to attend any and all games during testing.

Upgraded parking, beer and hot dogs mandatory.

  5 Responses to “Technological ‘Certainty’ to the NFL”

  1. Stephen:
    Very interesting thinking. And, if implemented, would add fairness to the game.
    But this may be adding too much science to a sport. I don’t have the need to do that.
    I only watch the NFL. And that may color my opinion.

    • Hi Gene,

      I suppose its where one draws the line on implementation – giveaways vs. takeaways. I also think that how much passion someone puts into their team or outcome of game, has an effect on seeking more exactness to calls.

  2. Love the idea — I wonder if it will be met with skepticism from players, just as the replay camera is in tennis.

    • Actually, there has been mostly a positive relationship, minus Federer, with the Hawk-Eye system in tennis. The majority of players appreciate the improved exactness, as trying to judge objects moving as fast as 150 mph on crucial points, can make or break a match.

      If there was a negative to be said on my end, it’s the fact that with this system, the ball can make contact 1-2mm outside the line and still be called ‘IN’. That’s because the system takes into account the circumference of the tennis ball – even though the spot it contacts on the court is far smaller.

      As I said in the article, I don’t see how greater certainty would be met with skepticism. Cases can be made both for why offense and defense would want this – but perhaps a drawback would be losing continuity/intensity due to pausing the game to review.

      As the famous aerospace engineer Burt Rutan once said, “Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.” Clearly, there are shortcomings in the inexactness of human-based judgement. I simply think improvements should be sought, when possible.

  3. The NFL has been working on wearable devices for players for the past two years. In the 2013 season they tested these devices in the form of smart shoulder pads. The device is packed with sensors like gyroscope, accelerometers, etc. It will be interesting if the additional data they get from these can be used to add a level of certainty to the calls made in the game.

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