NFL likely to insert data chips into gameballs in preaseason, Thursdays

ByKevin Seifert via ESPN logo
Monday, July 18, 2016

The NFL is finalizing plans to insert custom-made data chips into the game footballs it uses in the 2016 preseason and Thursday night regular season games, a league source said Sunday night.

The data would be used for research that could spark significant changes in officiating, kicking and other areas as soon as the 2017 season.

The Toronto Star reported earlier Sunday that the league would use chips in K-balls to help determine the potential impact of narrowing the goal posts at a point in the future.

The data will tell the league how close each kick comes to the uprights, and thus help project how many additional kicks would be missed if they were closer together.

The NFL moved to make extra points more difficult last season, pushing them back to a 33-yard kick, and saw a modest reduction in conversion rates.

Field goals, however, continued to hover at historic levels. In 2015, NFL place-kickers made 84.5 percent of field-goal attempts -- the second-best conversion rate in league history.

But the chip program appears to have larger intent than simply research for kickers.

A letter distributed recently to all 32 teams indicated that the chip-equipped ball will be used for all plays, based in part on feedback from a number of veteran quarterbacks -- who were asked to ensure that the chip-equipped football felt similar to the traditional football and that it did not act differently in the air.

For years, the NFL has been investigating the possibility of using chips in footballs to help improve the inexact science of ball placement.

Officials put the ball at the spot they believe it hits when the runner is ruled down. A chip could provide a more precise location on plays near the first-down marker. It could also help officials determine when (and if) the ball crossed the goal line.

Research to this point had suggested that chips were unreliable when the ball is buried in a pile of players.

For the past two years, NFL players and officials have worn RFID chips to track their location and exertion levels, among other data sets.