No matter what the NFL does to combat the perception that officials are getting worse, some people always think they need to do more. Former quarterback and current TV commentator Tony Romo didn’t use January 19’s playoff game between the Titans and Chiefs to propose a new rule. However, he showed exactly why a sky judge is needed using his now-famous observational skills.
While a “sky judge” may sound like a phrase out of a science fiction novel, there are compelling arguments for using one in the NFL.
What is a sky judge?
The sky judge is an extra referee who’s not located on the field, explains Total Pro Sports. A sky judge is still in the stadium, looking at both video footage and the field as a whole. The process would not bypass replays, but it would provide another eye on plays that aren’t easy to discern with the naked eye.
In a league where referees can give out penalties or miss them due to errors, this would allow officials to have another eye without wasting much time.
A recent upstart league attempted to use a sky judge. The AAF, which may be infamous due to its quick demise, enforced sky judges on 50/50 calls to ensure that late hits and other penalties were properly vetted before punishment was given or withheld. The AAF may have folded before its inaugural season, but this specific idea has not disappeared.
Why does it matter?
Former head of NFL officiating, Dean Blandino, saw sky judges as a no-brainer when it comes to the future of football at the time of AAF’s launch. “It’s definitely something they’re talking about, and obviously what happened in the NFC Championship Game was really a driver for this conversation, but this had been discussed before,” said Blandino per ProFootballTalk.
The call Blandino mentioned occurred during the 2019 playoffs when the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis ran to catch a pass from Drew Brees and Nickell Robey-Coleman hit him. To viewers, it looked like blatant pass interference, but to the officials on the field, this was a no-call. The Saints lost the game and a trip to the Super Bowl because of the call.
No official is perfect, and fans often project their own teams’ faults onto officials. In instances like this, however, it’s hard not to blame those with the whistle.
Did Tony Romo already prove the value of sky judges?
During the game in question, the Titans had 12 people on the field. Romo called this out before the officials noticed, according to MSN. Several minutes later, the refs began to talk, causing Romo to give a sarcastic rendition of what their conversation could be.
“There’s a flag which they should have called 10 minutes ago when I said there were 12 people on the field,” Romo said. “I think they just decided to start talking about it now: ‘Can they play with 12?’ ‘Nope, it’s 11.’ ‘You’re sure?’ ‘Yes. Can’t play with 12. We’ve still got that rule.”
Romo calling out the play may very well have been why it was reviewed. While his joke was far from a call to action, it offered insight into the benefits of having an official who takes advantage of a view from above to spots these things.
NFL fans can make many arguments for adding a sky judge. Avoiding controversial calls and having someone look from afar helps keep the game going. If owners want to fix officiating, they should follow through and consider looking into sky judges.
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