The NFL’s First Down Laser

Jan 03, 2011 No Comments

The yellow first down yardage marker image has become an integral part of watching football on television, allowing viewers to visually connect with the all too important first down.  Viewers have become so attached to the magical “unofficial” first down line that it seems odd watching reruns of NFL or college football games prior to the line’s introduction.

The future of NFL first down markers?

There is an idea to take this visual concept to the next level by displaying a first down line that can be seen not only on television, but live on the field during a game.  Inventor Alan Amron has created a “Green Laser Line” that he is promoting as a replacement for the current first down chain gang. 

The Green Laser Line would essentially function similarly to the current television yellow line with the laser system at the base of the current yardage marker. In theory the system would provide an accurate and quicker way to both assess and measure whether a team has achieved a first down (see demo video below).

Additionally, First Down Laser Systems, the company developing the system, believes that:

Our “Green Line” provides the players with a visible goal, preventing the fumbles and injuries that often occur when a player’s attention is turned toward the sidelined first down markers. When presented with a real goal, players are driven to play harder, giving their fans a more exciting performance.

I was initial skeptical about the functionality of this invention.  True it would be an enhancement for fans watching in the stadium and would conceivably assist players’ attempts to position themselves for or achieve a first down (I’m unsure of the laser’s ability to prevent fumbles or injuries).

But the most important question is…would a visually active first down line assist with the officiating of a game?

I believe that it would.

Throughout a football game officials constantly make visual judgment calls about the placement of the ball in relationship to the first down yardage marker. When viewing games on television the computer generated yellow line makes it painfully obvious when officials do not accurately spot the ball at the conclusion of a play (something which often happens).

Photo By: alexabboud

A lighted first down line may not be necessary when a play stops seven yards short of the first down marker.  But in a game where winning and losing is often measured in inches, the Green Laser Line offers officials a better opportunity to make a more accurate placement of the ball in short yardage situations by providing the needed perspective to judge the ball’s distance from the first down marker.

The Green Laser Line can also prevent officials from making poor calls such as announcing a first down has been achieved when clearly a ball is short of the marker (last night’s Rams/Seahawk game had the latest example of this).

However, there are two clear drawbacks to using the Green Laser Line system.  As Darren Rovell explained in his article, each system would cost an estimated $100,000 and the NFL is concerned about what injuries might happen if a player looks directly into the laser’s beam.  

Player safety should come first, but if this new first down system is proven not to be an endangerment to players and functional for use during games, the NFL should move quickly to integrate the Green Laser Line into games. 

Not only could the laser improve the accuracy of ball placement, the system could enhance player performance and the excitement of a game for football fans in the stadium and at home.

Below is a video demonstation of the Green Laser Line with former NFL head coach Jim Fassel

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