Official website of the New England Patriots

A Decade Later: Still No Green Light for Instant Replay System Improvement

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gestures during the second half of NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. The Patriots won 28-24. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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When Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick first called for the addition of goal-line cameras to enhance instant replay systems in September of 2005, he couldn't have envisioned still fighting an uphill battle for the common-sense and light lifting change nearly a full decade later.

But in a football version of the movie Ground Hog Day without an actual ending, the team has seen its suggestion/proposal defeated multiple times for no real good reason and tabled at this week's league meetings in Phoenix so that further research on the effort can be conducted.

How can a league that spends big to deliver a top-shelf on-field product, not yet have a clear and straight (not angled) camera shot of the goal line? Many have lost track of controversial scoring calls at the goal line in recent years alone. Add in end zone and sideline pass reception calls and the ice cream brain freeze sets in.

Real Challenges?

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The Patriots cameras proposal, unlike a dozen others related to instant replay this year, addresses the system used for instant replay, not the process nor how widely it can be used. There's neither a technology nor cost challenge to implementing the installation of cameras in stadiums along the sidelines, end zone and goal line. That has to have frustrated Coach B to the nth degree.

The wrinkle this year was New York Giants Owner John Mara inferring this week that implementing the Patriots proposal would be expensive and a large undertaking, to which the hooded one replied:

"I was disappointed to hear that we can't afford that, as a league," Belichick said. "It was kind of surprising to hear that." After a no-go last year, he was quoted as suggesting the league which had just upgraded the instant replay system, hold a bake sales or car wash to come up with the necessary funds.

Been There, Done That

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What most might not remember is that cameras in pylons were used when the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles faced off in Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. in Super Bowl 39 in February, 2005 (see picture). It appears they were used for TV purposes and not for instant replay.

Just this year, ESPN tackled the perimeter camera challenge in college football playoffs by putting cameras in the pylons. But the league thinks this approach would be too expensive. I haven't seen price estimates but am guessing current and prospective sponsors would jump high in the sky at the chance to make this an affordable reality, or even part of a sponsor deal. "Official pylon cam of the NFL" sounds solid to me.

From a tech perspective I see no challenges to implementing the proposal made by the New England Patriots. None. Video camera technology has evolved quickly – and sold to the masses – in the form of tiny HD cameras that fit in athletes' helmets and GoPro cameras that can be easily mounted most anywhere. Models capable of streaming the HD video they capture to other devices (such as the replay system) are already on the market. Dropping some fixed cameras onto fields would be light lifting at worst and could potentially enhance the instant replay process. I believe, within reason, that the more camera angles replay officials and HQ have the better. Who wants to lose points or even a game over a controversial call? Certainly not yours truly.

Tech Already!

ap01012803352.jpg

And as Belichick mentioned in his 2014 post no-go comments, NFL venues already have tons of fan-facing cameras for security and attendee safety that help football clubs thwart or respond to unruly fan behavior.

Never in NFL history have stadiums (and their visitors) been more tech infused than today where stadium wide Wi-Fi networks provide everything from access to video content and social media to supporting apps that let some venues' fans order food and find the shortest bathroom lines from smartphone while in their seats.

In some cases, the NFL's TV broadcast partners already use new, ultra-High Definition (UHD) 4K cameras along sidelines in some games to assist in instant replay decision making as they provide four times higher resolution video than 1080p HD models

I can't even imagine what it was like for instant replay officials to go under the hood to review video in the days of standard definition TV…Uggh.

The league decided to overhaul the system and tie in the league office in New York. And in the most recent Pro Bowl, using tablets to review plays was done, though likely as a test.

When it comes to installation of cameras in stadiums as proposed by the Patriots, we're hardly talking about building huge towers with sizable cameras and related equipment. Just the (polar) opposite is true thanks to the rapid consumerization of - and advances in -video capture technology.

Back to the Past

ap605205751090.jpg

Do you remember a decade ago in 2005 when Bill Belichick began asking (initially verbally) for the installation of cameras at each end of the goal lines to give officials a clearer view of when (and when not) the plane had been broken to post a score (touchdown)?

Three years later (2008) cameras along the outside of the field was proposed by the team. No go.

I'm still not sure why there was any opposition to that common-sense request. But the team last year proposed the placement of fixed cameras on the sidelines, goal lines and end zones to assist with instant replay. That covers potential receptions and scoring plays. No go.

This year, the team issued the proposal yet again

Desperately Seeking Answers

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In an age where technology and the NFL seem more tightly intertwined than ever before, can someone please tell me why the proposal to equip stadiums with additional cameras on the sidelines and the end zones to optimize instant replay was a no-go? This flies in the face of technology, and common sense, for starters.

I'm not privy to the actual details of the Patriots proposal but continuing to provide more and better technology-fueled tools to this often make-or-break process would seem to be of paramount importance to the NFL.

When you consider the relatively rapid evolution and expansion of the instant replay system in recent years, why stop now? I want more of a good thing. Am I in the minority?

With 13 of the 18 proposals at the meetings focusing on some aspect of instant replay rules, perhaps the committee was just plain overwhelmed? It's likely but nonetheless, a proposal that addresses the collection of video for replay decision making should not be lost in a long list of those seeking to change how the system is used. In fact, one seeking change to the actual system, not the process, should come first.

Ray of Hope?

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In commenting on the proposals that dealt with the use of instant replay – not the system itself – the rules committee said: "Instant replay was not intended to replace the subjective judgment of a replay official," the committee said. "The system was created to correct officiating errors that dealt with objective facts, involving goal lines, end lines, sidelines, the line of scrimmage, possession, and touching."

It sounds from this as if the committee perhaps understands at least that the Patriots' cameras-on-the field proposal is not about how instant replay is used. That could be why it has been "tabled" this year instead of straight out shot down.

League Meeting Summary:

Though countless proposals were discussed and considered at the annual owner's meeting this week, the amount of new ground covered seemed limited to works already -in-progress (NFL online and NFL blackout rule suspended) –the former announced in January and the latter predicable.

NFL to Stream Game Online

ap692462291156.jpg

Though covered as breaking news, the NFL decision to stream a game online was promised by Commission Roger Goodell in January. The only news this week is that it will be the Jags and Bills in London. To those who think streaming games on live is any way new to the league, consider that they stream all games live outside North America via its NFL GamePass service. They have also allowed DIRECTV to stream out of market games online on and off for a few years.

NFL Blackout Rule

This was expected given that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ditched its sports blackout rule last September. And for clarity purposes, the NFL's rule has been suspended for this season, not yet eliminated.

Just helping separate the relevant news from the noise.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology, media and entertainment redefine the way football fans interact with the league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

The Patriots cameras proposal, unlike a dozen others related to instant replay this year, addresses the system used for instant replay, not the process nor how widely it can be used. There's neither a technology nor cost challenge to implementing the installation of cameras in stadiums along the sidelines, end zone and goal line. That has to have frustrated Coach B to the nth degree.

The wrinkle this year was New York Giants Owner John Mara inferring this week that implementing the Patriots proposal would be expensive and a large undertaking, to which the hooded one replied:

"I was disappointed to hear that we can't afford that, as a league," Belichick said. "It was kind of surprising to hear that." After a no-go last year, he was quoted as suggesting the league which had just upgraded the instant replay system, hold a bake sales or car wash to come up with the necessary funds.

Been There, Done That

ap050202017757.jpg

What most might not remember is that cameras in pylons were used when the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles faced off in Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. in Super Bowl 39 in February, 2005 (see picture). It appears they were used for TV purposes and not for instant replay.

Just this year, ESPN tackled the perimeter camera challenge in college football playoffs by putting cameras in the pylons. But the league thinks this approach would be too expensive. I haven't seen price estimates but am guessing current and prospective sponsors would jump high in the sky at the chance to make this an affordable reality, or even part of a sponsor deal. "Official pylon cam of the NFL" sounds solid to me.

From a tech perspective I see no challenges to implementing the proposal made by the New England Patriots. None. Video camera technology has evolved quickly – and sold to the masses – in the form of tiny HD cameras that fit in athletes' helmets and GoPro cameras that can be easily mounted most anywhere. Models capable of streaming the HD video they capture to other devices (such as the replay system) are already on the market. Dropping some fixed cameras onto fields would be light lifting at worst and could potentially enhance the instant replay process. I believe, within reason, that the more camera angles replay officials and HQ have the better. Who wants to lose points or even a game over a controversial call? Certainly not yours truly.

Tech Already!

ap01012803352.jpg

And as Belichick mentioned in his 2014 post no-go comments, NFL venues already have tons of fan-facing cameras for security and attendee safety that help football clubs thwart or respond to unruly fan behavior.

Never in NFL history have stadiums (and their visitors) been more tech infused than today where stadium wide Wi-Fi networks provide everything from access to video content and social media to supporting apps that let some venues' fans order food and find the shortest bathroom lines from smartphone while in their seats.

In some cases, the NFL's TV broadcast partners already use new, ultra-High Definition (UHD) 4K cameras along sidelines in some games to assist in instant replay decision making as they provide four times higher resolution video than 1080p HD models

I can't even imagine what it was like for instant replay officials to go under the hood to review video in the days of standard definition TV…Uggh.

The league decided to overhaul the system and tie in the league office in New York. And in the most recent Pro Bowl, using tablets to review plays was done, though likely as a test.

When it comes to installation of cameras in stadiums as proposed by the Patriots, we're hardly talking about building huge towers with sizable cameras and related equipment. Just the (polar) opposite is true thanks to the rapid consumerization of - and advances in -video capture technology.

Back to the Past

ap605205751090.jpg

Do you remember a decade ago in 2005 when Bill Belichick began asking (initially verbally) for the installation of cameras at each end of the goal lines to give officials a clearer view of when (and when not) the plane had been broken to post a score (touchdown)?

Three years later (2008) cameras along the outside of the field was proposed by the team. No go.

I'm still not sure why there was any opposition to that common-sense request. But the team last year proposed the placement of fixed cameras on the sidelines, goal lines and end zones to assist with instant replay. That covers potential receptions and scoring plays. No go.

This year, the team issued the proposal yet again

Desperately Seeking Answers

ap791693043779.jpg

In an age where technology and the NFL seem more tightly intertwined than ever before, can someone please tell me why the proposal to equip stadiums with additional cameras on the sidelines and the end zones to optimize instant replay was a no-go? This flies in the face of technology, and common sense, for starters.

I'm not privy to the actual details of the Patriots proposal but continuing to provide more and better technology-fueled tools to this often make-or-break process would seem to be of paramount importance to the NFL.

When you consider the relatively rapid evolution and expansion of the instant replay system in recent years, why stop now? I want more of a good thing. Am I in the minority?

With 13 of the 18 proposals at the meetings focusing on some aspect of instant replay rules, perhaps the committee was just plain overwhelmed? It's likely but nonetheless, a proposal that addresses the collection of video for replay decision making should not be lost in a long list of those seeking to change how the system is used. In fact, one seeking change to the actual system, not the process, should come first.

Ray of Hope?

ap453909476017.jpg

In commenting on the proposals that dealt with the use of instant replay – not the system itself – the rules committee said: "Instant replay was not intended to replace the subjective judgment of a replay official," the committee said. "The system was created to correct officiating errors that dealt with objective facts, involving goal lines, end lines, sidelines, the line of scrimmage, possession, and touching."

It sounds from this as if the committee perhaps understands at least that the Patriots' cameras-on-the field proposal is not about how instant replay is used. That could be why it has been "tabled" this year instead of straight out shot down.

League Meeting Summary:

Though countless proposals were discussed and considered at the annual owner's meeting this week, the amount of new ground covered seemed limited to works already -in-progress (NFL online and NFL blackout rule suspended) –the former announced in January and the latter predicable.

NFL to Stream Game Online

ap692462291156.jpg

Though covered as breaking news, the NFL decision to stream a game online was promised by Commission Roger Goodell in January. The only news this week is that it will be the Jags and Bills in London. To those who think streaming games on live is any way new to the league, consider that they stream all games live outside North America via its NFL GamePass service. They have also allowed DIRECTV to stream out of market games online on and off for a few years.

NFL Blackout Rule

This was expected given that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ditched its sports blackout rule last September. And for clarity purposes, the NFL's rule has been suspended for this season, not yet eliminated.

Just helping separate the relevant news from the noise.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology, media and entertainment redefine the way football fans interact with the league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

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