One of the most anticipated rule changes of 2016 was the addition on another official in the video replay booth who would help the on-field officials get difficult calls correct. Many, including the league, have dubbed it the “eye in the sky.”
However, there seems to be some confusion over what exactly the eye in the sky can and cannot do. We have seen numerous questionable plays over the course of the first four and a half weeks that have had fans angrily asking, “Why didn’t the eye in the sky catch that!?”
So here is what the extra official in the booth can and can’t do.
The eye in the sky can adjudicate tough calls in real time. For example, if one player from each side of the ball jumps offside and one official says the offense moved and the other says the defense moved, the eye in the sky will look at the play and assign the penalty to the correct player.
The other thing the video official can do is “pick up” an incorrect flag on penalties that are not challengeable. For example, if a receiver is flagged for offside on the waggle but isn’t the video official can tell them to pick it up. (This happened in the Ticats game against Edmonton on Saturday.)
That is the job of the extra replay official. Nothing more, nothing less.
The big thing the eye in the sky cannot do is create new penalties where the on-field officials have not thrown a flag. This seems to be where fans are getting confused (myself included until I looked into it). Two plays in particular from the first two games of Week 5 illustrate what people think the eye in the sky should be able to do and what their actual powers are.
Example No. 1 comes from the Calgary-Winnipeg game from Thursday night. Early in the second quarter, the Bombers had a 3rd-and-1 from their own 44-yard line and were stuffed, turning the ball over to Calgary. But both live and on replay you can see that Calgary defensive lineman Zach Minter jumped offside.
Many fans think the eye in the sky can correct this obvious error. They cannot. The refs did not see the infraction and did not throw the flag, so the eye in the sky cannot come in and make the call for them.
The second example comes courtesy of the Ottawa-Saskatchewan game on Friday night. Late in the game, with Ottawa trailing by one, Saskatchewan defensive back Buddy Jackson very clearly interferes with Ottawa receiver Chris Williams.
— Andrew Symes (@FailedProtostar) July 23, 2016
As the above tweet shows, it was absolutely pass interference. It looks especially bad in light of the second part of the Vine, the somewhat questionable pass interference call on Ottawa’s Abdul Kanneh on the previous Saskatchewan drive that set up what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.
But once again, blaming the eye in the sky isn’t fair. Like in the Calgary-Winnipeg game, correcting that call is not under the purview of the official in the booth. The refs did not throw a flag on Jackson, so there is nothing the eye in the sky could do to fix it.
This explanation may be of little comfort to fans of both the Bombers and Redblacks, but blaming the eye in the sky would be unfair.
Hopefully the next time something like this happens — and we all know it will, sooner rather than later — you can look back on this simple, handy explanation and know where to correctly place the blame.