Starting this preseason, the NFL will launch a new way of collecting stats, by using data chips inserted into footballs. The chips will be used during the preseason as well as Thursday night games during the regular season.
The chips will weigh three grams, and be put inside the ball just under laces, per Kevin Seifert of ESPN. The low weight and placement of the chip is not supposed to influence the flight of the football.
When I originally saw the report, my initial hope was that they would track the PSI of the footballs. However, Seifert had the same thought as me, and unfortunately, the balls will not track PSI. So, what will the chips do?
The main goal of the chips are to track the movement and location of the ball. Major League Baseball has instituted "Statcast", a system that tracks the velocity of a throw, exit speed of a hit, distance of a home run, trajectory of a hit, etc. The chips in the football will track very similar data including but not limited to, the speed a quarterback throws the ball, and how far the ball travels, or the balls precise location on the field.
This type of data will help make the game more precise. For example, as Seifert notes, if a punt goes out of bounds, but still high in the air, the official has to run down the sideline and try to figure out the spot the ball went out of bounds. With the the new chips, the official can see exactly where the punt went out of bounds.
Another use that Seifert writes about, is that the chips can track how far in, or outside of the uprights a kick is. This data will be used in the NFL’s debates about whether to narrow the goal posts, and if so, to what extent.
Lastly, the chips will be able to track whether or not the ball crosses the goal line or crosses the first down marker. However, as Seifert writes, "Yes, the NFL will know whether a ball reaches the first-down marker or if it breaks the plane of the goal line. But unless it adds chips to the players' knees, elbows and feet, it won't know where the ball was at the moment the player was down -- the location the ball should be marked."
What Seifert is basically saying is that if a player is down, and then pushes the ball forward a little, the ball will not have registered that that is what took place. It will look as if the ball carrier got can extra foot or so. Or if a player is falling forward into the end zone, has his knee down before the ball crosses the goal line, but the ball crosses the goal line after his knee is down, the chip will read that as a touchdown.
While a flaw in the chip, that flaw is not one that the NFL should concern itself about, as officials can easily can make up for the ball not knowing the player was down.
But, if a player leaps over a pile on the goal line, and officials can’t tell if he crossed the goal line, the chip will be able to determine whether the ball crossed or not.
On TV, viewers will get an experience similar to what already exists in baseball. Immediately after a play, a replay can be shown that displays all of the stats that the chip picks up. I imagine it will be similar to something like this:
This will be a cool addition to NFL broadcasts to look out for this coming season.