Dear NFL, What is a “Catch” . . . ?

If you follow the NFL, you know that the rules surrounding the definition of a completed catch have caused a lot of heartburn. What do the SportsIntel editors think about? I’m glad you asked! I think this will probably continue to come up until the NFL does something intelligent to address it, so stay tuned.

What do you think, guys?

Brad’s take: Over the last 5-10 seasons there have been some calls that have literally decreased my enjoyment of NFL football and the common thread through these calls has been the difficulty with officiating the forward pass. The Fail Mary, the Calvin Johnson thing, the Dez Bryant thing, etc. On Sunday we saw another example of the shortcomings the NFL rule book faces in this area as Steeler tight end Jesse James clearly caught a pass and then tried to score a TD after securing the reception. If he had been handed the ball by the QB, no one would ever have asked “did he possess the ball all the way to the ground?” That’s correct, a running back could literally juggle the ball all the way to the end zone without EVER demonstrating positive control of the ball and the same threshold of “possession” would never be required. The rule as currently constituted is absolutely broken. It’s a disgrace and it makes the job of the officials impossible. I would like to point out that, in detesting what happened in Pittsburgh on Sunday, I never once blamed the zebras. I think they correctly interpreted the shit-sandwich of a rule with which they have to deal. My beef is with the rule itself.

And since I don’t feel good about complaining without presenting a solution, here is what I would like to see: Scrap the current rule and let the officials be the arbiter of “catches.” It may seem vague and dangerous, but I would be comfortable with the officials simply applying the “reasonable observer” standard at this point. Every football fan sitting at home on Sunday recognized that James caught the ball, but the letter of the law completely failed us. As “football” people, I would be willing to trust the referees to make this determination, and I genuinely believe it would spark less controversy than the set up we have now. Maybe it’s overly altruistic, but I feel as though we employ human officials because common sense judgement is superior to an interpretive tome of legalistic terminology. Let the human referees do the job.

Danny’s take:

Chris’s take: I know the rule in question has already been dissected many times over, but I think it’s important we share that with folks who may not have caught the breakdown of Jesse Jame’s catch. Here is the NFL’s official explanation on the event in question.

Now, I believe the question most important here is why this rule was implemented and what purpose does it serve. Here’s Mike Pereira on First Things First breaking down why the rule was initially implemented. The history of “why” concludes by 2:08 but feel free to watch all 10 minutes for more perspective on the catch as a whole.

My bottom line is this, if the alternative is a guy catching the football gets tossed simply because a section of the ol’ pigskin touched the turf, I’ll take the rule as it exists all day. At least with the rule written as is we can debate these types of things, but prior to its implementation even if he had maintained control of the ball, it still would have been incomplete. Back in the day with no instant replay it might have been called a touchdown and upheld, but that’s not the world we live in anymore. It’s extremely difficult to compare the NFL’s application of this stuff over the years because instant replay has simply been a game changer, literally.