NFL Testing Optical Tracking System In Preseason Action

  • The NFL has been using two chains placed 10 yards apart to measure first downs for over 100 years, leading to controversy sometimes.
  • The NFL is testing an optical tracking system to get a more accurate reading on where the ball has been spotted, which should reduce human error.
  • The system has already been tried at two stadiums, and will get a full trial during this upcoming preseason. However, there will still be a “chain gang” present during NFL games.

The practice of using a set of chains to measure first downs in the NFL could be headed for the exit door soon. CBS Sports has reported that the league has been testing with optical-tracking technology to measure line-to-gain verdicts at two stadiums already, and it’ll get a preseason trial this season. The hope is that it’s accurate enough to use this regular season.

Watch any NFL game, and you’ll see the “chain gang” trotting out to a ball spot to measure a first down. It can sometimes lead to controversy, whether it’s due to the spot of the chains, or the spot of the ball by the official. The NFL is hoping that this will be put to bed with the introduction of optical tracking.

The NFL has fully embraced technology to make the game easier, whether it is for player stats, or for instant replay. Optical tracking would be another use of modern technology to simplify the game and get a more accurate conclusion.

Let’s have a look at optical tracking, how it works, and how it will have an effect on NFL games.

What Is Optical Tracking And How Does It Work?

Optical tracking is similar to Hawk-Eye technology, which you will see if you watch professional tennis. You can also see it in goal-line technology in soccer. Hi-resolution cameras are placed all over the stadium in order to get an accurate tracking of a moving ball (or person). This camera-based technology doesn’t require the ball to be outfitted with a chip.

A report from Sports Business Journal states that optical tracking can also help with the direction of a pass (forward or a lateral), where a punt goes out of bounds, and whether a quarterback leaves the pocket.

This technology has already been used in NFL stadiums last season. MetLife Stadium (New York Giants and Jets) and Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Dolphins) have already tested the technology, as has Allegiant Stadium (Las Vegas Raiders).

The system is not 100% accurate. An article about Wimbledon 2023 revealed that Hawk-Eye has a 2.2-mm margin of error, although some reports say it can be as much as 10 mm off. That’s why the NFL is doing such rigorous testing to ensure that they can be as accurate as possible.

This doesn’t mean that the “chain gang” is going anywhere. The CBS Sports report affirms that it’ll still be there as a reference for people in the stadium, including fans, players, and coaches.

How Will It Affect NFL Games?

Obviously, if done right, this will have a huge effect on NFL games. Business Insider discussed a 2017 game between the Dallas Cowboys and then the Raiders (who were in Oakland at the time). Late in the game, there was controversy surrounding a spot of the ball. It was decided when the referee used a note card to see if there was any space between the ball and the first-down marker.

The Cowboys went on to win the game because of what was considered a poor spot. This gives the referees another tool to help get it right in a fast-moving game. There is too much at stake, whether it’s a playoff spot, which means more money for a team, and the league as a whole.

This will also affect how results are graded at NFL betting sites. If an accurate ruling can be made, there will be minimal controversy on how the sportsbooks award a win or a loss.

If the preseason trial doesn’t prove to be accurate, the NFL can always go back to the drawing board for next season. It’s not a done deal yet. But anything to make the game officiated more accurately will be welcomed by everyone involved with the NFL.

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About the Author
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Elliot Nield
Casino/Sportsbook Writer
Elliot Nield has worked in the online gambling industry for almost two decades, and while his focus is on sports, he doesn't mind a few hours on the poker felts and the blackjack tables. In his spare time, Elliot can be found cheering on Manchester United and the Kansas City Chiefs, and praying that Patrick Mahomes stays healthy forever.

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