The USFL will officially get underway this week, with the latest incarnation of the league kicking off its inaugural season with a Saturday game between the New Jersey Generals and the Birmingham Stallions. As is always expected in these smaller leagues, there is an expectation that the game will look different in certain significant ways, in one form or another.
One of the interesting experiments the USFL is conducting is by (finally) incorporating technology into the process of ball placement, though not without significant human input. Technically, we already saw this, as they did play a preseason game, but for the first time in an official football game, the USFL will use chips in the footballs to help them take distance measurements. Gone are the arbitrary chain gangs.
Very similar to how technology is used in tennis to determine whether the ball is inbounds or not, the league’s games will be officiated using this technology to tell the officials where the ball is relative to the field.
This all doesn’t necessarily lead to better results, automatically. I’m sure there is still data to be collected on just how accurately the chip can detect where the football is, given that it is of an unconventional shape. I don’t know the full mechanics of how it will be implemented, but I would imagine it also still comes down to an official placing the ball where he believes it was when a play was whistled dead.
Still, anything that gets rid of the ridiculous chain gang that essentially involves a couple of part-time employees eyeballing where they think they were standing on the sideline 10 yards apart is something I’m in favor of, even if as only a stepping stone to a more permanent solution down the road.
I’m sure we’ve all seen enough instances of officials even struggling to actually compare where the football is to where the chain is once they do get it down on the field, even getting the call wrong or having to go to ridiculous lengths to guesstimate whether or not it’s right up against the chain.
So much of the sport remains antiquated in terms of how it’s run without modern improvements, but of course improvements are not available for every facet of the game. Still, given the rise in significance of betting, something like ball placement and ensuring its accuracy is only going to become more and more important in the future.
Or don’t you think somebody will sue the NFL if a game is decided on what appears to be an inaccurate measurement by a chain gang, costing people millions of dollars in the process? They’ve already faced lawsuits for other outcomes, even if nothing comes out of them almost every time.