NFL Should Take a Page from MLB When It Comes to Umpire Safety

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IAugust 28, 2010

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 1:  Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams collides with umpire Bill Schuster during the game against the Detroit Lions on November 1, 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Major League Baseball and its umpiring crews have received their share of criticism over the years. Close plays at the plate, inconsistent strike zones, and rapid-fire ejections are scrutinized on a nightly basis. History may never let us forget Jim Joyce's missed call at first base to rob Detroit's Armando Galarraga of a perfect game.

For all its faults, MLB has one thing right: the positioning and protection of its umpires.

There is potential for any of the four umpires to get hurt or in the way during the course of a baseball game, but the home plate umpire is particularly vulnerable.

It is at the plate where the most violent acts happen—100 mph pitches, aggressive swings of a wooden bat, foul tips, and base-running collisions all occur within inches of the home plate umpire.

Home plate umpires wear a face mask, a chest protector, and leg guards to protect themselves.

Imagine if Commissioner Bud Selig decided to move the umpire from behind the plate to the on-deck circle, the backstop, or the back of the pitcher's mound. He would be safer, but the quality and integrity of the game would be compromised.

This is exactly what the NFL is doing with its umpires this year.

The NFL's umpire used to line up on the defensive side of the ball about five yards from the line of scrimmage. His main responsibilities were to watch penalties involving offensive and defensive linemen and to spot the ball between each play.

The umpire still has these same responsibilities, but now does so on the offensive side of the ball and 12 yards from the line of scrimmage. The umpire will return to his old spot during the final two minutes of each half when teams are more likely to run a hurry-up offense.

To me this doesn't make much sense. Obviously, the NFL is having the umpire return to his spot behind the linebackers for four minutes because it's beneficial for the quality of the game, so why not have him there the whole time?

If MLB is smart enough to outfit their umpires with protective equipment, why can't the NFL see the light?

They don't need to be dressed out like an NFL linebacker, but at minimum give them a helmet to protect against concussions. The helmets don't need to have face masks because they may restrict the umpire's vision too much, but give them some protection.

All of the game's elite quarterbacks use every possible edge they can to get an advantage on the defense. One of these edges is the ability to use a no-huddle offense. The no-huddle offense allows the quarterback to control the pace of the game and prevent the defense from making substitutions.

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are both masters of the no-huddle attack, but both have been penalized during the preseason for an illegal snap while hurrying their teammates to the line of scrimmage.

The ball cannot be snapped until every official is in place. Because of the umpire's new position on the field, it takes him a lot longer to spot the ball and then return to where he is supposed to stand.

It is senseless to expect the quarterback to turn his head away from the line of scrimmage and make sure the umpire is ready. The quarterback should be focusing all of his attention on making protection calls and reading the coverage.

Besides the risk of an illegal snap, the new positioning of the umpire strips the no-huddle offense of its intended quick pace.

Let's say that on a particular play, the offense gains 10 yards. Prior to this season, the umpire would only have to run five yards from his original position to spot ball and then five yards more yards to get ready for the next play.

Now on that same play, the umpire has to run 12 yards to spot the ball and another 12 yards to get ready for the next play.

All of that wasted time destroys the value of the no-huddle offense.

Hopefully, Commissioner Roger Goodell will listen to the players about this issue and puts the umpire back in his rightful spot.