NFL annoyances: bringing out the sticks

One of the things that annoys me about the NFL is how they measure for first downs. You can usually tell if the ball is placed far enough for a first down without “bringing out the sticks”, as they like to say, to measure it. That’s why they have yard markers across the field. Are those two poles joined by a chain just so manly that the NFL can’t get rid of them? Are the guys who have this job part of a union that the NFL can’t fight? You’d think by now we’d have a more accurate (and quicker) way to measure, maybe with a $1.50 laser from the sideline?

In last night’s Monday Night Football game, we have a demonstration of referees who were unable to determine if the ball was past the first down marker without “bringing out the sticks”. Was this really necessary?:


The dumbest thing about measuring this way is that there is no regard for the placement of the other “stick” that is used to base the measurement on. The way it works is a guy takes “the stick” from the sideline and runs 20 or 30 yards to where the measurement is going to take place and it is assumed that this guy can perfectly place “the stick” using just his eye to locate the spot from the sideline. This guy isn’t off by even an inch?!? If this guy is so accurate at judging distance and spots on the field, why not just ask him if the ball is far enough for a first down? Instead they relegate him to the supposed unimportant part of the measurement.

Then the other “stick” is lifted, pulled tight and dramatically put down so we can all see if it’s a first down or not. It’s assumed that the second “stick” is brought down perfectly parallel to the sideline. If it’s not, the measurement can easily be off by several inches — 7th graders taking geometry know this.

Which brings me to the stupidity of having “inches to go” for a first down. Watch the Center when he grabs the ball to hike it to the quarterback… he almost always moves it back or forward an inch or two and that’s perfectly legal, so who cares if the play ends up an inch or two short of the first down? Just call it a first down and move on. We don’t need the charade of “bringing out the sticks”.

4 thoughts on “NFL annoyances: bringing out the sticks

  1. “You’d think by now we’d have a more accurate (and quicker) way to measure, maybe with a $1.50 laser from the sideline?”

    I can’t agree more with the above comment and entire commentary on the sticks. Very well said!

  2. I agree with you regarding the measurements. The thing I am sick of is the poor English being used on most every game I watch. Did you ever notice when a first down is made, the announcers state, they are moving the “CHAINS.” There are two poles and “ONE CHAIN” used in the measurement. Why do they constantly make this false statement?
    A seventh grader know the difference between a singular and plural word.

  3. I can’t disagree with you on the laser comment.

    When the chains are moved after a first down is made, the sticks are pulled tightly on the side line and a clip is attached to the chain on a major yard line (for example: http://www.kellyssports.com/browse.cfm/4,227.html). As a major yard line has several inches of width, presumably there is a convention where along the width of the yard line the clip is placed. When the chains are brought out, the upfield point is based on the clip and then the downfield stick is pull tight. The upfield stick is not used on the on field measurement.

    Just found my explanation stated by my favorite referee, Jerry Markbreit. Go to the bottom question:
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/football/bears/askthereferee/cs-031231jerrymarkbreitsanswers,0,7175830.story

  4. E Jennings on 27 Dec 2009 at 8:41 pm # you made the same mistake that many announcers make when you stated: When the “chains” are moved after a first down is made, the sticks are pulled tightly on the side line and a clip is attached to the chain on a major yard line (for example: http://www.kellyssports.com/browse.cfm/4,227.html).
    It is “one single chain” with two sticks that determine a first down. Moving the “CHAINS” is wrong. There is only one “CHAIN” between two poles. Why can’t people get this right???

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