The NFL could be about to change its worst and most controversial rule


It’s the rule nobody seems to be able to explain and everybody hates.

It’s the so-called catch rule in the NFL, and it’s used to determine whether a receiver successfully completes a catch or whether some barely noticeable detail seen only during super slow-motion replay invalidates the play and makes it an incomplete pass.

As the rule currently stands, a receiver must “complete the act of catching the ball” through the entire play, including “surviving the ground.” If the ball hits the ground or the player loses possession after hitting the ground, the pass is ruled incomplete.

The problem with the rule, however, is not how it is written, but how it was interpreted. Plays that were called as touchdowns in one game were ruled incompletions in another, even though the “surviving the ground” aspect of the play seemed identical in each.

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But during league meetings this week in Indianapolis, the league’s competition committee is considering a change to the rule whereby a catch would be upheld if the receiver establishes possession before hitting the ground.

Giants owner John Mara told reporters the NFL competition committee has reached a unanimous agreement that infamous and controversial no-catch rulings in past seasons by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Dallas’ Dez Bryant — in a playoff game at Green Bay — and Pittsburgh’s Jesse James should have been ruled as complete.

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While no change to the rule is coming from this week’s meetings, committee members believe it will be in place by the start of the season.

“We are going to figure it out,” Stephen Jones, Cowboys executive vice president and competition committee member, told in regard to the catch rule. “I do think we’ll make some improvements that our fans, and in general, people will appreciate when it’s all said and done.”

At a news conference during Super Bowl week, commissioner Roger Goodell said the catch rule was one of the top priorities for the competition committee to straighten out during the offseason.

“From our standpoint, I would like to start back, instead of adding to the rule, subtracting the rule. Start over again and look at the rule fundamentally from the start,” Goodell said. “Because I think when you add or subtract things you can still lead to confusion. These rules are very complex — you have to look at what the unintended consequences are of making a change, which is what the competition committee, in my view, does so well and with so much thought.

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“We’re trying to supplement that here a little bit by … giving them some thought (and) starters of the ideas we think we can focus on. … Clearly catch, no-catch has been a lot of discussion and a lot of disagreement … and I think we can clarify this rule and I think we can do it with a lot of hard work (and) focus and get to a place where — I’m not going to tell you there won’t be controversy, but I believe we can get to a much better place.”

There are other rule changes being considered by the committee, including the change of defensive pass interference to a 15-yard penalty instead of a spot foul, a targeting rule for hits to the head similar to the one currently in place in the NCAA, tightening the rules for illegal contact beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage, and clarifying rules for ejections for players who engage in on-field fights.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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