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NFL testing high-tech optical tracking to measure first downs

The NFL’s use of the decidedly low-tech 10-yard chain to measure first downs could be replaced by high-tech optical tracking.

The league today revealed that a system to measure first downs electronically has been tested, and that the owners will be presented with information about how the tests went as the NFL considers the possibility of using the tracking instead of chains.

In addition to line to gain rulings, the league is exploring optical tracking with high-resolution cameras along the sidelines, goal lines and end lines to assist in officiating decisions.

The testing has used technology developed by Hawk-Eye, the computer vision system that assists with video replays in tennis, to precisely determine the position of the ball and players during replay reviews.

The NFL believes the technology could potentially be used this season, although it’s unlikely the league will be far enough along to rely on it exclusively. So the chains aren’t going away just yet. But they could be phased out soon.