It’s become popular in plenty of circles to criticize Commissioner Roger Goodell whenever and wherever possible. On one of the topics for which the NFL absorbs plenty of criticism, Goodell could be in line for some genuine praise.
Goodell said Wednesday that the league wants to find a better solution for determining what is and isn’t a catch.
“The Competition Committee has looked at that, but I’ll go one step further with you: A couple weeks ago, I asked several football personnel, including former G.M.’s, current G.M.’s, current individuals, former players, former officials, to come together and try to see if we can study this and come up with some proposals for the Competition Committee to consider. We want clarity to that. We want to find a better solution if it’s out there,” Goodell said at a press conference held in connection with the quarterly ownership meetings, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com.
The fundamental problem with the current rule arises from the reality that, as applied, it often conflicts with the expectations of those watching the games, and what appears to be a catch ultimately is determined in too many instances to be not a catch. Following the controversial non-catch in the Cowboys-Packers playoff game, the NFL’s Competition Committee considered a change to the rule, but ultimately opted for different words but no different meaning.
To the extent the NFL is currently interested in making the rule better match the know-it-when-you-see-it, visceral reaction to what is and isn’t a catch, here’s the proposal PFT offered back in March:
1. If a player catches a pass, gets two feet (or one shin/knee) down, and then goes to the ground, he must secure possession through the act of going to the ground. If the ball touches the ground at any time in the process, the pass is incomplete.
2. If a player catches a pass, gets two feet down and takes a third step, the catch is complete. If he loses possession while going to the ground without being touched by an opponent while falling, it’s a fumble. If touched by an opponent in the act of going to the ground, the play is over when the player hits the ground, regardless of whether he loses possession.
One of the biggest concerns associated with this specific type of rule comes from the potential uptick in fumbles. But how often will a player catch the ball, get three feet down, not be touched by an opponent, fall, lose possession upon hitting the ground, and not recover the ball?
It won’t happen often, and in the very rare cases when it does, the message to the receiver will be clear. First, you should have held onto the ball. Second, now go get the fumble.
The league has fumbled the handling of the catch rule too many times in recent years, and to his credit Goodell knows it. Also to his credit, Goodell is doing something about it.