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Report: NFL to Test 1st Down Technology in Preseason; Rule Change in 2024 If Approved

Scott Polacek

NFL fans may not have to worry about referees estimating whether players picked up enough yardage for a first down when spotting the football in the near future.

According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, the NFL will test an optical tracking system during the preseason that is intended to "make for a more accurate measuring system that reduces the amount of human error."

If it works and is approved by those around the league, the NFL could use it during the 2024 regular season as well.

Jones explained that, although game footballs do have microchips in them, this technology doesn't actually use those microchips and instead is based on optical tracking.

It is a system that has already been used at MetLife Stadium (New York Jets and New York Giants) and Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Dolphins) but will need to be installed in stadiums around the league in time for the preseason testing.

If there are any issues or the NFL isn't confident enough in the system, it could push it back to the 2025 campaign.

Jones also noted that even while the system is being used, there will still be chain gangs present. However, they will be used as backups and as a reference point for coaches, players and fans.

Officials spotting the ball on close plays has been a source of frustration for fans, players and coaches in the past. That is especially the case when the officials aren't in the best position to see how far a player advanced before he is tackled.

Perhaps the most infamous incident happened in 2017 when referee Gene Steratore used an index card to measure whether the Dallas Cowboys picked up a first down on a fourth-down attempt during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

He ruled that Dallas converted the play, which preserved a drive that ended with the winning points.

"The incident rekindled debate about the antiquated and at times arbitrary way the NFL measures ball placement on the field," ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote at the time. "NFL referees place the ball directly below where they believe it was when the ball carrier was down by contact."

Perhaps the NFL can be a little less antiquated with this new system.


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