Replay reviews are going to be handled a little differently this season, simultaneous with the addition of pass interference into the mix.
As Football Zebras reported in March, the replay booth underwent “configuration changes” in which several long-tenured replay assistants were dismissed. The replay official, who already monitors the live play, will have the replay assistant freed up from other tasks so as to be in more of a copilot role. For instance, the RO and the RA already do manual counts of the number of players on offense and defense as a backup to the on-field crews.
The replay official, and by extension the replay command center in New York, will have a new piece of technology at their disposal.
“Game day evolution is the biggest focus this year,” says NFL chief information officer Michelle McKenna in a promotional tweet by the league. “We are testing [a] multi-camera angle instant replay system where we receive feeds direct to our centralized command center versus through the networks. It’s a way we can get whatever we want to see versus simply what is fed to us.”
Now, the replay official will have a screen with 6 key camera angles and can select which ones to focus on between downs. This would be of particular use in the stop decisions when the clock is running. Television might not have time for replay or have a relevant angle to show between downs, and a replay official who is adept with the controls can preempt the reliance on a television director’s decision. The logistics for this replay system were in place last season, but the NFL opted to implement this in 2019.
This also allows the RA to examine network replays from other camera angles for their suitability or potentially to check another aspect of the play. In theory, with the six key angles going directly to the replay command center, reviews should take less time.
In addition to the 5 replay assistants let go in March, the configuration changes also had the league dismissing over 60 personnel (technically, they are in a cluster of contractors titled “game day assistants” that live near NFL stadiums). We have learned that some of those GDAs are working in different capacities this season.
The GDA position that was eliminated from the replay booth was a communicator that served as a liaison with the television production truck and to the field-level replay communicator. A new position of video operator was added to the GDA staff in 2018. (The replay official and replay assistant are assigned to officiating crews and are not in the GDA group.) Football Zebras obtained a list of the position mechanics for the video operator, and include the following duties during the game:
- Identify and mark the beginning of every play and replay in NFL Vision [the proprietary software that runs the replay operation, as seen in the photo above]
- Verbalize all snaps and camera angles being shown during replays on the broadcast feed.
- Alert the RO/RA if a play is coming in that is slow motion, super slow motion, broadcast team drawing on the play, etc.
- Understand key aspects of the play that the RO/RA are reviewing and help identify appropriate camera angles for them to review.
- Ensure that the game clock properly starts and stops on every play. Have a strong understanding of the clock rules.
- The “All-29” camera will have three presets with proper positioning. Please use these presets only when changing the camera angle. Be sure to change the camera angle if the ball moves out of the frame. It is important to check the pre-snap view on every play.
The “All-29” angle is a new feature in replay, and it appears that this may be used as a reference rather than a primary video source. The All-29 (think All-22 plus 7 officials) is a dedicated camera in each stadium controlled by the video operator that he or she will pan to one of three preset positions that show about 60 yards with overlap. The primary purpose this angle will serve will be to establish the formation at the snap. For now, the indications are that this is being tried out for 2019, but it is the first time that the league is using a fixed camera in replay that is not a TV network camera.
In 2012, we said that reliance on a television network, which may have to break away from showing a replay in a hurry-up offense, hampers the replay operation from doing its job effectively. Although it was a few years in the process, it looks like the NFL has also come to that conclusion.