Fixing the NFL’s Catch Rule

Photo credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, we’ll undoubtedly see countless replays as officials, announcers, and the Mikes – Pereira and Carey – try to determine what constitutes a catch in professional football. It’s all ridiculous, and lamenting the process is best left to Al Michaels and Jim Nantz. But few have offered reasonable solutions other than adding to or tweaking the current rules, a catch-all framework that too often doesn’t jive with the eye test.

My solution: Subjective judgment call by the official, with one litmus test: Did the receiver possess the ball before it hit the ground? [It can still touch the ground so long as receiver is firmly in possession.]

No need to put both feet, or a knee, hand or elbow down (other than on boundary plays– sideline, back of end zone), because, in theory, a receiver can make a great leaping catch, fully possess the ball, get helicopter-ed in the air, and lose it before he hits the ground. It would be up to the official to determine if he had firm possession before dropping it. This would be a rare case, and head-hunting could be an issue. But, yes, in theory, you can catch and possess a football before you touch the ground.

Wait, what? Surely I’m kidding, right? I’m not, and don’t call me Shirley. The current framework – especially the “until he has clearly become a runner” part – is up for interpretation anyway, and it often negates diving catches and potential fumbles. Most of the rules in football, or any sport, are incredibly specific and prescient. There’s almost a rule for every scenario because, taken to the extreme, one could circumvent a seemingly simple rule. Take, for example, a receiver not being allowed to be the first person to touch the ball after stepping out of bounds. In practice, it’s stupid– his foot hits the white line and all of a sudden he’s out of play until he can take three full steps inbounds. But, in theory, receivers could play hide and seek on the bench area and pop back in for a quick catch without it.

Catches are different. There’s no specific boundary, line, or time element that allows you to make a black and white call. Ultimately, it’s subjective… but subjective within the confines of a framework. If officials were freed to watch replays on questionable calls – yes, there’d still be replays, because anyone who argues that the league would want to shorten games and strip out the genuine drama of replays is kidding themselves– football is a soap opera in part because of replays, and unlike baseball, there’s not a great need to shorten a truly compelling product – it would prevent us from hearing “it looks like a catch, Joe, but that’s actually the right call according to the rules.” IF IT LOOKS LIKE A CATCH, IN SLOW MOTION, TO HIGHLY TRAINED EYES, IT’S A CATCH! Anyone who’s ever played beach football knows a catch when they see one. There are no hard and fast rules. Either you caught the ball or you didn’t. Jump up, grab the ball, tuck it ‘neath your arm and then drop it while you stumble to the ground… well, that’s a fumble. Catch a ball on the run, take three steps while the ball is squirting out from under your arm… well, that’s incomplete. Palm the ball like goddamn Odell Beckham, tap one toe to the ground and get popped… well, that’s up to the official.

This is no different than balls and strikes and baseball. Sure, there’s a loose guideline – shoulders and knees – but you tell me how many umpires follow it? And those calls are made, in real-time, on the fly, and are unchallengeable. NFL officials would have the benefit of HD, super slow motion closeups to inform their decision. It seems that the most egregious so-called mistakes on catch calls are the ones where the rules bastardize the eye. We blame the officials, but often they’re the scapegoat for calling it by the books. If they league just gave officials the freedom to use their judgment – and use it with the benefit of replay – we’d be better off. It’s not like they don’t make subjective calls already – pass interference, some penalties – and those happen at full speed. This would keep the drama of the catch replays, result in less head-scratching because officials are using a framework none of us understand, and, bonus, when they do screw up, we can have a true scapegoat.

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13 Responses

  1. There’s nothing wrong with the NFL’s “catch rule.” There is in fact no “catch rule.” The human race had no difficulty understanding what is and is not a catch for ~60 years until all of a sudden we got retarded because a couple of marquis WR bruvvas like Dez and Megatron started dropping the ball on purpose as soon as they catch it like they do in practice. Sorry homie, you’re not supposed to do that. This isn’t the NBA and the refs don’t give you style points for traveling or charging.

    It’s very simple: the NFL hates, AND HAS ALWAYS HATED, cheap turnovers. So the bias is AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN toward an incomplete catch, rather than a catch-fumble. You have to catch the ball and hold on to it and not let it go. After that, keep holding on to it. Try not to let it go after that. Hand it to the official. If he reaches his hands out to take it, it’s probably been long enough. You’ll lose street cred with your crew, but sacrifices have to be made to pay the bar tab.

    Now, in the end zone, a dropped ball almost always goes out of bounds so there’s no chance it can be recovered, but the ruling is the same. It has to be the same in the end zone, because it would be retarded otherwise. That’s what the mouth-breathers who argue that it “shouldn’t be different in the end-zone” (not you, Kyle) can’t seem to wrap their Chipotle wrapper brains around. It ISN’T different in the end zone. That’s the whole fucking point. If it’s not a fumble in the field, it’s not a touchdown in the end zone.

    TL;DR: The sports media needs to STFU about this. I can only imagine how bad it would be if I didn’t cut the cord 3 years ago.

  2. Nothing on the weaker than expected, single digit sales of your orange Legion of Doom Chistmas sweater ?

  3. Some rolling thoughts as we head into the weekend

    1. Here’s a story on a group of Donald Trump supporters. These people and the party that support him are disgusting
    2. Today I hear the words “Lets’ go to Kenny from The Dirty 30” and turned the radio to another station. STOP CALLING IN YOU FAT LOSER.
    3. Bills 42, Eagles 3. End this charade.
    4. 97.5 beat WIP for a full week in every timeslot. Josh Innes is fat and gross and it’s an indisputable fact now.
    5. Is Jillian’s Instagram account back on private?

    1. Yo, fuck you!!! Keep my name off this blog.
      I’ll call in to my morning show friends anytime I want.



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