Does it seem that they measure for first downs less than they used to?

Or is it just me? ISTM that they used to be a common occurrence. Now, they seem pretty rare. Has something changed? TV perhaps?

I believe you’re correct. Something like 5 or 6 years ago (?), there was a concerted effort by the league to speed up the game a little. They did a few different things to reduce stoppages and delays, for instance instructing officials to give a split second grace period on delay of game penalties (so that they’d call fewer of them). Whether it was acknowledged or not, it seemed to me that one of the changes was to measure less often on 1st and 2nd downs: if it’s at least very close, they just grant the 1st. I can’t fine a source at the moment but I swear this was a real thing.

I’m all for these kinds of shortcuts; stoppages are just death. I wish they wouldn’t waste so much time on instant replay, it’s really starting to affect my enjoyment of the game.

So its OK to undermine the integrity of the game to just speed it up? Defenses have been known to stop offenses on 2nd and inches. Its impossible to have a 1st and inches except at the goalline.

Well that’s not the phrasing I would choose but, basically, yes. The game’s whole reason for being is fun, and if it’s not fun to watch then nothing else matters. Watching them bring out the chains on 1st Down isn’t fun, so if we can do without it we should. And we can do without it. You know how we know? Because they mostly stopped doing it and no one noticed or complained.

Well, that inherently contradictory fast.


Are you pointing out that I was responding to a complaint by saying that no one was complaining? If so, you know, basically no one.

Needs more verbs.

Look on the bright side, the XFL had to change their Overtime rules to make sure Saturday Night Live started on time :slight_smile:

Everyone’s a critic.

“Well, that got inherently contradictory fast.”

Ouch, poor Nars.

[Black Knight mode]

I’ve had worse.


The whole measuring protocol is fundamentally flawed anyway.

Huh. I just assumed that, since they can draw the line on the screen, that manual measuring was no longer necessary and they just used digital equipment of some sort that was a lot faster.

I was on the chain measuring crew (okay, “chain gang”) for a high school team for a couple of years. You have no idea how right you are.

From the officials’ spotting the ball, to marking the spot on the sideline, to clipping the marker on the chains at a yard marker, there’s enough fuzziness at each step of the process that “bringing out the chains” isn’t nearly as precise a thing as you might think.

When you have a key 3rd or 4th down measurement, and the chains show it’s a couple of inches one way or another - the chains may not have been precisely placed for the 1st down, not to mention the spot may have varied a little from the actual end of the play on 2nd and 3rd down. It’s a very imprecise process, made to look like it’s exact.

Yeah, when a team gets a first down the guys are way over on the sidelines trying to put the chain in place. But three plays later they bring the chain out to the ball and expect it to be accurate to the inch. I think science classes would refer to this as an uncalibrated instrument.

I wonder if this is something that everyone in football accepts, because the only way to fix it would slow the game down too much, or if most of them have just never thought about it.

This. Most spots are just an educated guess anyway. They should just put a chip in the ball or whatever, like the way they used to be able to make hockey pucks glow. I’m sure that technology’s even better now.

The use of the chains is probably the worst way you could possibly come up with to measure it, though. As others have pointed out, it’s a hideous measuring instrument, literally the worst way I could think of of doing it. It is actually worse, IMHO, than the ref just figuring it out in his head by looking at where the ball is spotted.

Using a ten-yard-on chain on a field that is already marked in yard-long increments is crazy. You’d be better off just using a yardstick. If the ball began 7 1/2 inches from the defense’s 48 yard line, then the yardstick will demonstrate whether or not it reached 7 1/2 inches from the 38 yard line. The chains are just silly.

I agree that the chip technology would be a better way to measure, but part of the problem would be that you still have to tie it to the moment in time when the ball carrier is down and, particularly for close calls, the orientation of the ball could matter. If the chip is in the middle of the ball and the ball is parallel to the sideline it might be a first down where if it’s perpendicular it wouldn’t be. Even if they tied the readings from the chip to footage, now you’re just replacing the chains with a new version of instant replay. Worse, unless you know that the down marker is right, it doesn’t matter, so you’d have to also do a double check on where the ball was spotted for the previous first down.

Ultimately though, sports are a weird combination of precision and fudging it by best guess, football probably being the most blatant example. There’s this odd artificial precision related to first downs, where the chains themselves are not necessarily placed exact, the spotting isn’t exact, even the line marker isn’t, but if it’s off by half an inch, it’s enough to grant or deny a first down. Perhaps the idea is just that, over the length of a game, the errors more or less even out and only really matter too much if they happen to be bad on a given play.

But this sort of thing happens in other sports too. For instance, in baseball, the strike zone is notoriously subjective, some have even argued that the ability of a picture to expand the strike zone is part of the game (though that argument is neither here nor there).

Either way, back to the OP, to that end, I’m okay with less measuring. Considering that the chains are marked based on a best guess by the side judge and the chain crew, I’m fine with the ref mostly doing the same and granting or denying if it seems reasonable. Besides, most of the time it’s not all that hard to judge unless it’s ridiculously close. That’s the whole point of the hash marks, usually they can tell within a margin of a few inches without needing to drag the chains out. I’d particularly say this is true if it’s a 2nd and inches early in the game. Yes, the defense might stop them, but is the small chance of that worth the break in the game it would require to measure so inexactly anyway?

I think the flow of the game is a more important to the integrity of the game than maybe getting a few inconsequential first downs wrong over the course of the season. Besides, I’m much more inclined to blame missed or bad calls on pass interference or whether a ball was caught or not and various other subjective calls for affecting the outcome of a game than a realistic best guess at a ball spot.

Maybe someday the tech will be there to replace the refs with robots, but given just how much they do to run the game, I think they’d be fully replaced in most other sports first.

The coaches can request a measure anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if the refs don’t do it automatically.

I sometimes wonder if the TV guy just tells the ref if the ball crossed that yellow line. :wink:

Remember, the chain and sticks are there for more than measuring. They’re there so everyone can see approximately where the line to gain is all the time. Why bother with an additional yard sick when you have a ten-yard chain already?

In practice, officials at most levels will spot a first down right on a yard mark, even if the “real” spot is a few inches off. That way, almost all checks against the line to gain can be done by sight without measuring.