“Officiating is changing before our very eyes,” says Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira, “and I don’t know if anyone has recognized it — except maybe me.”
Pereira is referring to the use of a wireless headset system to possibly convey limited outside information to the on-field crew.
At the beginning of the 2015 season, Football Zebras examined the phenomenon of extra communication coming from “upstairs” — the replay officials. The observation of these cases is fairly obvious, especially in situation where calls are changed after crews discuss on the field, then change factors that could only be added from an outside source.
On the heels of a new book release, Pereira chatted with ESPN.com reporter Kevin Seifert, reviving one of his favorite discussion points about officiating in the current day.
“They’re never going to come out and admit it because it’s not allowed in the rules,” he said. “I get that. And I’m not against the notion of trying to get as many calls right as you can, but my only concern is if the rulebook doesn’t allow you to do it — to me, there is a conflict. I get the side of trying to avoid controversy, but I’d rather the rulebook allow it first.”
Pereira cited a recent example in New England when the Patriots hosted the Ravens. After Ravens back Kenneth Dixon stumbled to the 23, Ed Hochuli marked the ball there. He subsequently moved the ball back to the 27, where subsequent replays showed his knee was down.
This additional help is perfectly fine as a limited tool. Officials use the “big lines” (5-yard markers) as reference points, so when using that technique, the 32- and 37-yard lines look awfully similar, given that they are two ticks away from a big line.
We have noted some other cases where outside assistance was given. In a 2012 Wild Card contest, Mike Carey was assisted during a complex intentional grounding enforcement. Ed Hochuli was appreciative of replay official Tom Sifferman (nickname, “Jungle Boy”) and unintentionally shared this via live stadium mic after Sifferman confirmed a call of 12 men on the field. During a Seahawks onside kick in 2015 against the Rams, it was clear that Jeff Triplette and crew received help in determining if an onside kick touched the ground or not.
Late in the 2015 season, the NFL revised its policy to allow for enhanced use of the wireless system, but this allowed use remains limited.
As long as this tool is a lifeline and not a true “eighth official” interacting and affecting decisions, it shouldn’t be much to write home about.