ProFootballTalk

NFL to once again revisit catch rule

The perpetually unresolved question of what is and isn’t a catch in the NFL lingers. So will it be considered again this offseason?

“Has it ever not been?” Falcons president/CEO and Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay recently said on PFT Live.

“Will it be talked about?” McKay added. “Absolutely, because again every year we’re going to have six to eight plays as replay becomes more and more a part of our lives because, quite frankly, technology just gets better and better. Then all of a sudden the scrutiny applied to a play like that gets even higher. Yes, you need to go back and you need to make sure — our rules forever have been written for on-field officiating and trying to make sure that we put the officials in a place on the field where they can officiate and be consistent in their officiating.”

The problem arises in large part from the fact that the decisions made in real time by the officials on the field are now picked apart from multiple angles in super-slow motion.

“Sometimes, it gets a little inconsistent when you then begin to review them in replay at frame-by-frame in what looks like a simple decision by an on-field official,” McKay said. “It’s not quite so simple when it’s at full speed. I think we just need to make sure the way we look at it in replay and the way we’re telling the on-field official to officiate are consistent. Maybe that requires us to discuss the language, which we have many times before. I think Commissioner Goodell has done a great job in the last five years on this topic. I’ve been to New York twice where we’ve had a bunch of people including former receivers and former head coaches — just a bunch of different people that go in there and watch a series of plays and say, ‘OK, let’s talk ourselves through this rule and talk through do you want to change it do you like it do you not like it?’ We really haven’t done major changes to it. We’ve done a lot of tweaks to it. We’ll probably do that same process this year.”

When they do that same process this year, will they consider the PFT suggestion that the third element of the catch rule — whether the receiver had the ball long enough to clearly become a runner — should be exempt from replay review due to the subjective nature of the provision that kicks in after the player has the ball in his hands and gets two feet or another body part on the ground?

“I think it’s an interesting point,” McKay said, “and I think it’s one that merits discussion because what you’re saying is, ‘Let’s get out of replay in the quote ‘subjective element,’ because that’s a subjective element. We really didn’t design replay initially for subjective elements. It was designed for objective elements. It was designed for sidelines, end zone — it was lines of demarcation, objective elements not subjective. Your point’s a good one. I think we need to just look at it. Look at the plays and as you said earlier don’t overreact to it and tweak it in a way that is consistent realizing that the officials on the field do a really good job with this rule.”

Given that many of the issues with the catch rule this year came from the decision of the league office to use replay review to overturn rulings on the field based on the inherently subjective third element of the catch rule, maybe the right answer is simply to take replay review out of the portion of the catch/no catch decision that entails as much on-the-fly judgment as does other non-reviewable subjective rulings, like pass interference.