Officiating crews may have an additional member in the near future. The NFL Football Operations Department reported Thursday that the Competition Committee is in support of analysis and research by the officiating department in regards to the potential addition of a “booth umpire” or “technology advisor” to NFL officiating crews. In March, two joint proposals by the Ravens and Chargers were made to increase the power of the officiating crew, by proposing a “booth umpire” as an eighth official on the crew, as well as a senior technology advisor to the referee, also known as the STAR.
Both of the proposed positions have the same basic description: an advisor who is separated from the on-field officials, most likely in the replay booth, who has the ability to be in full communication with the on-field crew, as well as access to a monitor that displays all broadcast angles of a given play. The only difference between the two proposed advisors is slight, as the “booth umpire” is a member of the officiating crew and make their own calls, while the senior technology advisor to the referee is not an official on the crew and can only act as a bug-in-the ear to assist the crew. The “booth umpire” follows the SkyJudge model of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. Technically, if both proposals pass, we could see both of the positions used.
In the 2019 offseason, the Competition Committee unanimously rejected the SkyJudge model, despite coaches unanimously approving an unofficial proposal to have a SkyJudge. Here’s the kicker — two coaches participated in both votes. This year, approval by the Competition Committee may be a good sign for the proposal to add officiating advisors.
In a response to the NFL Football Operations announcement of the Committee’s approval of the research into adding the advisory position, the officiating department stated that they are continuing to work with the current officiating roster to continue to identify how existing or additional personnel can utilize replays outside of the traditional review process as a way to assist the crew. Also, there is potential for a preseason test of the officiating advisor for potential future use in the event that the proposals fail at the owner’s virtual meeting. Preseason experiments have been used for years in the officiating sphere to test eighth official mechanics, tryout officials for referee positions, and work with college officials in the Officiating Development Program (ODP).
The NFL owners will vote on all of the rules changes proposals on May 28, and it will be interesting to see if there will be any additions to the officiating crew for the 2020 season.