AAF officials show NFL referees how it’s done

The Alliance of American Football, or AAF, kicked off its inaugural season on Feb. 9 and immediately showed how they plan to take advantage of some blind spots in the NFL’s monopoly. Much of that involves changes to officiating; they don’t want to experience what the NFL brought on themselves during the botched NFC championship game, hosing the New Orleans Saints before Super Bowl LIII.

One way the AAF is avoiding that ugly situation is by adding a ninth member to officiating crews, termed the sky judge. As explained by AAF officiating consultant Mike Pereira, “If you get a helmet-to-helmet spear and it’s not called on the field, it can be picked up by the ninth official. He has the ability to do it in real time. . . . He can call down to the field and say, ‘Hey, spearing on No. 33 of Birmingham, 15-yard penalty, let’s go.’”

But when situations do call for use of instant replay, the AAF is broadcasting communications between replay officials to referees on the field. You can watch a sample of this innovation from CBS Sports, as replay official Jimmy Oldham goes through the process in an opening-night game between the San Diego Fleet and San Antonio Commandeers:

Oldham relays what he sees on the instant replay — in this case, that the receiver got just one foot in bounds before exiting the field of play, resulting in an incomplete pass — in a stunning bit of transparency from the AAF. The NFL should feel embarrassed that they do not allow this much access to their fans, or even anything close to it. Even if calls don’t go the way fans want, being able to view the entire process and at least understand the officials’ reasoning on game-changing plays would do much to repair the NFL’s image after a humiliating officiating error in this year’s NFC championship game.

For now, the AAF exists just in its infancy. Whether it has any staying power remains to be seen. But if its innovations can spur the NFL into meaningful action, the AAF deserves all the praise and attention from football fans it can garner. If nothing else, it’s great to have football season extended another month.

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