As expected, Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay explained to the media on Wednesday that the league’s rule-making body won’t recommend to ownership any substantive changes to the rule regarding pass completions while the receiver is going to the ground.
That’s why the owners need to take the bull by the ball (the football, not the other kind) and come up with a rule that will allow consistent and easy application by the officials, and that will mesh with reasonable fan expectations.
Here’s what McKay said regarding the Competition Committee’s decision to stand pat:
“We spent an awful lot of time on catch-no catch. It’s not the first time that we’ve spent a lot of time on it. We seem to do it a lot. Let me give you a couple of things that we started at. We started in Indianapolis going through it with the committee itself and just watching the plays and asking is that a catch or not a catch – let’s go back through the rules. We came out with the fact that we all see an inherent conflict between what goes on with respect to the scrutiny provided by replay or slow motion and what goes on in live action. I think all of us came out at a point that we have to make sure that we write the rules for what is officiated on the field at full speed in live action, and not what gets looked at in super slow motion. I think what will come out and what will be written in our report is that we’ll confirm the rule that’s really been there for more than 70 years, which basically says there are three elements to a catch: number one, you’ve got to secure control of the ball in your hands; number two, you’ve got to maintain that control when you have two feet down or any body part other than your hands; and number three, which will be the clarification that we’ll add to the book, we’ll say you must control the ball long enough after A and B, meaning you’ve caught it cleanly and you’ve got two feet down or a body part, and after those two elements then you’ve got to maintain control long enough, and we’re going to use the language we’ve had in the book for a long time, in which you would have the ability to perform any act common to the game. It doesn’t mean you have to perform the act, but it’s an element of time and you’ve got to write it in such a way where people understand that it’s not just bang-bang and that’s a catch.
“So in our mind, and I think in the coaches subcommittee’s mind when we went back and watched the tape with them, if you asked me the simple question of would Calvin Johnson be a catch in 2011, the answer in our minds would be no. You still wouldn’t have those three elements having been maintained, especially because in his act he is going to the ground in the act of catching a pass, and the way the language will be written this year to make sure that people understand it, it will say if the player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass with or without contact by an opponent, he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. So that’s a lot of verbiage, but that’s kind of how we look at it. There are three elements to the catch and there’s the element of if you’re going to the ground you’re going to have to maintain it throughout the process of contacting the ground. So we looked at I can’t tell you how many plays that probably go back over the span of three or four years just to make sure we’re consistent, and the one thing we’ve come away with is you have to put some responsibility on the receiver and that responsibility is maintaining possession throughout contacting the ground, because otherwise you’re going to have a real issue with respect to how replay conflicts with live action officiating. We’ve got a long part of our report that will be written up that deals with those two issues, so maybe I didn’t explain it as clearly as I could but I think it’ll be written in the report.”
Based on the first paragraph, it sounds like the Competition Committee will potentially be making the process more complicated by codifying the vague “second act” exception that was used, despite not appearing in the rule book, during Super Bowl XLIV, when Saints receiver Lance Moore caught the ball while falling down near the goal line, reached the ball across the plane while falling, lost possession of the ball upon hitting the ground, and ultimately was awarded two points via a ruling that the catch was valid. Those two points put the Saints up by seven instead of five late in the game. Knowing that a Colts touchdown could have merely tied the game instead of taking the lead may have made Saints cornerback Tracy Porter more inclined to jump the route that produced a backbreaking touchdown in New Orleans’ eventual victory.
Though the owners have in the past refused to adopt rule changes recommended by the Competition Committee, it’s unusual if not unprecedented (as Eagles president Joe Banner said during today’s PFT Live) for the owners to interject their own rule change that the Competition Committee specifically decided not to suggest.
Well, there’s a first time for everything.
We see two potential approaches. First, the owners should adopt a rule that recognizes a catch as a valid completion if the receiver lands with both feet on the ground, or a knee, leg, butt, torso, elbow, shoulder, or head touching the turf, regardless of what happens as the rest of his body hits the deck. Alternatively, and preferably, the owners should go back to the rule that applied before Bert Emanuel had possession in both hands but the ball touched the ground and the league thereafter decided that under certain circumstances the ball would be allowed to touch the ground as long as it didn’t move.
So what’s wrong with requiring the player to catch the ball and to not allow it to touch the ground at any point in the process of making the catch? If the player is going to the ground while catching the ball, the ball should not touch the ground. If it does, the catch is not a catch. Though some may think that it’s not “fair” to take away a good catch simply because the pigskin grazes the grass, at least there would be no room for ambiguity or inconsistency.
At a time when the owners are surely feeling like they don’t have control over much of anything, this would be a great opportunity for them to take charge of their game — and to give the fans a clear rule that widely will be regarded not only as fair but sufficiently clear to allow folks who in varying degrees of intoxication to understand when a catch is a catch, and when it isn’t.