The Baltimore Ravens are proposing for the second consecutive year that the league consider adding an eighth official — a “Booth Umpire” — to NFL officiating crews, according to Mike Florio at NBC Sports. This is a similar proposition to one that was made last year by the Ravens and Chargers. The Booth Umpire would have access to all television camera angles and would be able to make or adjust certain calls in real time accordingly, and would report to the Referee, as do all other officials. The idea of adding a booth official gained traction in 2019, when all 32 owners asked the NFL to consider the addition. This was largely in response to the pass interference no-call debacle in the 2018 NFC Championship game. Of course, the league settled on the ill-fated and widely unpopular change of making pass interference reviewable, which lasted all of one season. Last year, the proposal to add a Booth Umpire was withdrawn ahead of the league owners meeting in May, and is being revisited again in advance of this year’s meeting.
The unique perspective of a booth official would offer some significant advantages. First, the change could help to speed up the game by minimizing time spent on some in-game reviews. Since they would have access to all TV angles, they would see the game much the same way fans at home are seeing it, which would greatly benefit the on-field crew by providing a viewpoint they currently don’t have access to. Second, having an official who can see the game with access to every camera angle would help to get more calls correct the first time, without need for further replay. As Mookie detailed last month, the NFL is considering making roughing the passer reviewable. As we have seen with the PI review issue, adding reviewable plays doesn’t always correct the problem if the wrong calls are still being made on the field initially.
While this change would be welcome news to many players, fans, and owners alike, its status for 2021 is still up in the air. Proponents say that it is just a matter of time before the change is made, and suggest that the NFL be proactive by making the addition before another bad call or missed penalty visibly impacts the outcome of a game. It is definitely gaining some traction, as Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team recently voiced his approval for the change while speaking with Rich Eisen:
"Whatever we can do to help and make sure we get it right, is important."— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) April 6, 2021
-hit @WashingtonNFL @RiverboatRonHC on possible rule changes and how he'll approach a 17th game this coming #NFL season: pic.twitter.com/tKN37TtnxE
Riverboat Ron elaborated on this, telling Eisen that the fact that NFL teams play a limited number of games relative to other professional sports adds extra urgency and importance to each contest.
When the idea of making this change started floating around in 2019, the league Competition Committee was entirely opposed, but came around in 2020 and actually supported it. Apparently, the Committee has had another change of heart, as they now suggest that the extra responsibilities should instead be delegated to the Replay Booth Official. Somewhat surprisingly, the Officiating Department concurs and only supports some expanded duties for replay officials at the moment, but does not support the addition of an eighth crew member, Mike Florio reports. The XFL tried a similar concept with a “Sky Judge” during its brief window of operation, and the experiment was largely successful. It feels like the change will catch up with the NFL sooner rather than later, though it remains unclear whether “sooner” will mean 2021 or beyond. Ultimately, the outcome of this eventual change should be beneficial to everybody, as ensuring that the correct calls get made and minimizing officiating controversies is in the best interest of all parties involved.