Sunday, March 21, 2010

NFL Umpires Flip Sides

This is a minor detail in the midst of a great NCAA tournament.

But it might be a transition worth noting for the NFL season only six months away: starting next year, NFL umpires will be positioned behind the offense.

At every level of football, umpires have always been positioned behind the linebackers: inside the meat grinder. I read Chad Brown's entertaining Inside the Meat Grinder, which gave me an appreciation for the difficulties and dangers of his profession.

Like most NFL umpires, Chad Brown is a former pro player. Agility, strength and vision are an umpire's most prized assets. Umpires are primarily responsible for watching the lineplay: formations, motion, holding, cut blocks and spotting the football.

Time will tell if it will be harder for the umpires to do their job on the flip side. According to the league, safety is the reason for the change. In 2009, NFL officials sustained over a hundred injuries, including two concussions and three knee or shoulder surgeries.

"Safety" has often held the power of shibboleth in the NFL and our larger culture (e.g. banning hugs and high-fives in school). But in this particular case it's hard to argue against.
The new positioning will certainly expose some blind spots, and we will likely see some missed calls. But, with everything else I see turning into total shit (overtime? don't get me started), I can't form an argument against this.

Good luck?

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