League tells officials to err on the side of calling “bang-bang” passes incomplete

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Whenever I think I finally understand it, I realize that I don’t. Which summarizes my own personal relationship with the catch rule over the past several years. And pretty much everyone else’s.

Recent changes to the rule book seem to reinforce the notion, as suggested by a key (but largely overlooked) ruling in the NFC playoff game between the Packers and Cardinals, that the NFL wants game officials to call a catch a catch if it looks like a catch. Applying the replay standard to the very specific language of the revised rule, it becomes much harder to find “indisputable visual evidence” that the receiver didn’t have the ball long enough to do the various things that he needs to have time to do.

Then came Friday, when NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino sent arguably the opposite message.

“When it’s bang-bang, rule it incomplete,” Blandino told the league’s 124 game officials at an annual preseason clinic in Dallas, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. “When in doubt, make it incomplete.”

Blandino’s advice to err on the side of calling a pass incomplete flows from his confidence that the ruling can be fixed via replay review, if there’s indisputable visual evidence that the player actually had the ball long enough.

“[I]f we look at it on replay and it did appear the receiver had it long enough, then we change it and move on,” Blandino said. “Don’t change how you’re officiating these plays. Bang-bang is incomplete, and the time element allows us to be consistent on these bang-bang plays.”

So maybe there’s a way to harmonize this. Maybe a true bang-bang play should be called incomplete, if the player loses the ball immediately after the second foot comes down. And maybe that handful of plays every year involving players getting two feet down (and maybe a third, e.g., #DezCaughtIt) while going to the ground but not keeping control of the ball — plays in which the expectations of players, owners, coaches, fans, and media conflict with the ruling on the field and in the replay booth — will now result in a decision that the ball was caught, with the replay standard (if applied correctly) unable to overturn the ruling.

Or maybe not.

“There are going to be four or five plays like this every year where everybody says, ‘That’s got to be a catch. It looks like a catch,'” Blandino said. “On the playground, that’s a catch. In the school yard, that’s a catch. But it’s not under our rule, because he did not have the ball long enough to be a runner before he got to the ground.”

So instead of giving the people what they want (and, in turn, setting the stage for more catches, yards, and touchdowns), the NFL will continue to defy the expectations of its stakeholders and customers. Which will set the stage for more controversy and criticism and scrutiny.

There’s still hope. Maybe some officials, fully aware of how hard it will be to overturn the ruling on the field given the new language to the rule, will decide that they’re going to call it a catch if they think it looks like a catch.

66 responses to “League tells officials to err on the side of calling “bang-bang” passes incomplete

  1. I find the catch rule to be just as stupid and unnecessarily complex as everyone else, but I actually agree that true “bang-bang” plays should be ruled incomplete on the field. The offense has everything going for them as it is, give the defense a little something here

  2. The NFL is trying to create the first fractal rule – a rule whose detail at minute levels is infinitely complex.

  3. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say that the NFL keeps its vague guidelines and controversial calls — ON PURPOSE — to generate heightened emotions and lots & lots of publicity.

  4. Almost the rules in recent years have been aimed to create more offense so I have no problem making this one a bit more in the defense’s favor. Also if Bryant had control of the ball why did it pop out of his hand? The rule has always been fine, the problem is fans who whine and can’t accept a call.

  5. I didn’t realize what Blandino says flows from his confidence… I always thought it flowed from his cornhole.

  6. “When in doubt, make it incomplete”…this kind of rhetoric will undoubtedly cost a team a game this year. It sounds like a horrible precedent to create seemingly for no good reason, more like they can’t be bothered to use their “training” to make a good call.

    It’s easy to gang up on the refs because of a missed call here and there but that’s the nature of every game and people being human. An inflammatory statement like above makes it seem the refs don’t want to be bothered making the hard decisions.

  7. These kinds of decisions would be easier to stomach if Blandino at least had some on-field experience to pull from. I’ve personally had a job where the supervisor in charge didn’t actually have any experience in the job he was supervising, but was someone who simply scored high on a test.

  8. Hey nfl i have a better idea. Go for one foot in like college and say us all a lot of officing crapola. Tired of the reviews. They are longer than the games. Just makes things a hell of a lot easier seeing one come down vesusten minutds deciding if the se ond one came down

  9. Wide receivers make millions of dollars a year to catch footballs…. Catch the ball and maintain it through the whistle. If not, don’t expect technology to come bail you out.

    Dez could made that play moot if he just did the job he’s paid millions for.

  10. Just don’t become the NBA where its too much of a fine line/judgment call on whether or not its a defensive foul or a charging (offensive) foul… The refs get involved too much in the outcome of the game… That’s why I don’t like the NBA as much… A home game gets you home cooking and the officials decide who wins the game… Its quite annoying to say the least

  11. What if the coach doesn’t have any challenges? Are they going to make “catch or no catch” an automatic review like they do all turnovers and all scoring plays?

  12. Great idea. How many times have we seen teams “hurry to snap the ball” before the challenge flag can be thrown on a questionable completed pass. The play and clock will be stopped. The Offense can still challenge the call and they will have more time to do that. It is fair to both sides.

  13. Dez didn’t catch it. if you are going to the ground making the catch, keep control of it. If it was a CHOICE to go the ground trying to make the TD, dez messed up tactically.

    if he couldn’t help it, the rule still is that as you’re going to the ground, keep the ball.

  14. For 90 years everyone pretty much knew a catch when they saw one. Then the gang that can’t shoot straight started ‘clarifying’ things and now no one, including the officials, knows whether or not a catch is a catch until someone in NY says so. Maybe if we had more faith that the objective was to get it right that wouldn’t rankle as much but in all honesty from what I have read most of us feel this league office would lose in a credibility test against a personal injury lawyer

  15. A player should be considered having control of the ball until he drops it. Also so what if it moves a little in his hand as he goes out of bounds. As long as he held onto it.

  16. The league doesn’t want to clarify this. They want it muddy so they can effect the outcome of games through officiating, plain and simple.

  17. When you overthink things you make it more complicated than it should be. That is the stupidity of the NFL in a nutshell.

  18. Fixing this is really not that hard to do. The problem is the NFL seems to want flexibility and enjoys the attention from the drama while mitigating definitive proof they got a call wrong or right. The rules seem detailed yet are sufficiently vague enough to spark controversy. Theoretically, the league can and has reviewed identical plays and given opposite rulings. The fix is quite simple:

    First, get rid of the mindset that every play will fall into a neat little black and white box that can be easily ruled on. Second, SIMPLIFY the rules and get rid of all the garbage qualifiers. Requirements for a catch should be the same regardless of where the player is on the field. Third, empower the officials to do what they are supposed to do…make judgment calls when necessary and ensure the game is played within the rules. The official should make the call based on what he/she sees on the field rather than the misguided directions from Blandino like the one mentioned in this article.

    When replay is used there should be definitive proof the official was wrong before overturning any call

  19. samgeyser says:
    Jul 18, 2016 11:02 AM
    Fire Goodell. He’s destroying the game.

    Yeah ok, to the owners who are making record profits, he’s doing just fine.

    If you think the game is ruined then stop watching it.

  20. I hate the Cowboys and was rooting against them in that game.

    Dez caught it. 100% a catch.

  21. firecracker87 says:
    Jul 18, 2016 11:40 AM

    What about in situations where a replay is not allowed?
    ————————-

    Per Blandino: No catch.

  22. I’m telling you just go back and review video from any games played before the Calvin Johnson end zone catch/no catch quagmire

    Pay special attention to exactly how catches were called in those games

    Make a highlight film of a hundred or so examples and require all the officials to review and comprehend what made each play a catch or a drop

    Done!
    Now more time can be allocated to other sketchy issues…

  23. No Fun League strikes again – this is the last sport I follow and not for much longer – cannot stand to sit through endless commercials for moments of action or better yet replay challenges

  24. mackcarrington says:
    Jul 18, 2016 11:11 AM

    These kinds of decisions would be easier to stomach if Blandino at least had some on-field experience to pull from. I’ve personally had a job where the supervisor in charge didn’t actually have any experience in the job he was supervising, but was someone who simply scored high on a test.
    —————————

    I don’t even think Blandino scored high on a test.

  25. “Dez caught it. 100% a catch.”
    I like to think if you ask most Packers fans they would say Dez caught the ball – seriously. Call that wonderful bit of athleticism a catch and that makes it an even more exciting game – And they’re telling refs we want more like that Dez call?
    These are entertainments after all, right?

  26. mackcarrington says:
    Jul 18, 2016 11:11 AM

    These kinds of decisions would be easier to stomach if Blandino at least had some on-field experience to pull from. I’ve personally had a job where the supervisor in charge didn’t actually have any experience in the job he was supervising, but was someone who simply scored high on a test.
    ———————–

    I think Blandino used to hand out towels in the Executive Wash Room at 345 Park Ave, and Roger liked the cut of his jib, and offered him the V.P of Officiating job.

  27. All this crap about catch VS no-catch, I’m starting to think the NFL needs to get rid of instant replay all together. Its nice to see them get a bad call right, but I shouldn’t need a law degree with a minor in chaos theory to understand what constitutes catching a football.

  28. I think they should just get rid of instant replay altogether.

    More often than not, it just creates more controversy.

    Of course, that would mean about 30 fewer commercial breaks per game, so it will never happen.

  29. rhamrhoddy says:
    Jul 18, 2016 12:05 PM

    I’m telling you just go back and review video from any games played before the Calvin Johnson end zone catch/no catch quagmire

    Pay special attention to exactly how catches were called in those games

    Make a highlight film of a hundred or so examples and require all the officials to review and comprehend what made each play a catch or a drop

    Done!
    Now more time can be allocated to other sketchy issues…
    __________________________________

    Actually, this 1st became an issue with Louis Murphy of the Oakland Raiders. He scored a TD and the refs said he didn’t control it through the catch even though it really appeared as if he did and was starting his celebration because it was to, basically, seal a victory over SD. The refs ruled it no catch. So, this isn’t the “Calvin Johnson” or “Dez Bryant” rule, it is the “Louis Murphy Rule”.

  30. “On the playground, that’s a catch. In the school yard, that’s a catch. But it’s not under our rule, because he did not have the ball long enough to be a runner before he got to the ground.”

    Then change the rules…duh

  31. The Dez catch was ruled correctly by rule… but the rule is and was terrible. He absolutely caught the ball. He just didn’t do the 9 other things the NFL seemingly wants.

    As a lifelong Packer fan, that should have been a catch. It wasn’t only because the rule is so bad.

  32. The Almighty Cabbage says:
    Jul 18, 2016 1:16 PM
    The Dez catch was ruled correctly by rule… but the rule is and was terrible. He absolutely caught the ball. He just didn’t do the 9 other things the NFL seemingly wants.

    Any rule change that would make that a catch would be stupid. Dez bobbled that ball and never had clear possession of it.

  33. TDs, fumbles, interceptions should all err on the side of catch so the challenge is automatic and the team doesn’t have to use a challenge.

  34. The only reason I see this making sense is because of the clock. If it’s ruled a catch then the defense has to challenge before the offense lines up to snap the ball.

    If it’s ruled incomplete the clock stops already.

  35. Blandino is just not that bright. Reviews are supposed to be 100%. Meaning, would you bet your life that the field call was wrong? If not, you’re supposed to let the call stand.

    Timing of becoming a runner is subjective! It’s impossible to be 100% wrong on review. One man’s view of catch timing can differ from the next.

  36. They are still trying to validate that lousy call made against Calvin Johnson against the Bears after all these years. Common sense says give the fans what they want. The NFL is more concerned with validating bad rules and/or bad calls.

  37. firecracker87 says:
    Jul 18, 2016 1:25 PM

    Some perspective here:

    The NFL was founded on August 20th 1920. And near a hundred years later they’re trying to define a catch.
    ——————————

    For about 90 years of that they knew what a catch was. Then a certain little someone was hired, and suddenly we don’t know.

  38. “I think they should just get rid of instant replay altogether.

    More often than not, it just creates more controversy.”

    That would not change anything really.

    Many people watching the games dvr them and then go back and replay things themselves. The controversies would still come up all the time and reply does sometimes at least help get the correct call.

  39. Why did they introduce the “runner” nonsense to the definition of a catch? 95% of the controversial calls don’t even involve the receiver trying to run with it.

  40. If the ball is in your hands and both feet come down in bounds it’s a catch. If you lose control of the ball after both feet are down it’s a fumble. Fixed it for you

    Enough with this Football move crap.. Keep it simple stupid..

  41. All hail your hero Roger Goodell as he continues to do all he can to screw up the game but you love love him because he can frame a guy! If you supported him, don’t whine about anything he does! Goodell was gone after the Rice scandal but he tricked you into loving him out of jealousy!

  42. When the NFL attempts to simplify or clarify a rule, they just talk in a lot of circles and complicate it all, and you’re left more confused than you were before. I had a friend who did this when she was caught in a lie – it just made everyone around her mad, and sooner or later we all gave up trying to get a straight answer out of her. Kinda the same thing here.

  43. How can Goodell continue to bleat on about the “integrity of the game”; when there don’t seem to be any players, officials or fans that understand what a damn catch is.

    If these clowns at 345 Park Avenue had an ounce of “integrity”, they’d all resign and allow some competent folks to run this thing.

  44. computojon says:
    Jul 18, 2016 11:06 AM

    If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say that the NFL keeps its vague guidelines and controversial calls — ON PURPOSE — to generate heightened emotions and lots & lots of publicity.
    *****************************************
    If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say they do it so that someone other than the players can determine the outcome of the games. There is a lot of money being wagered on NFL games.

  45. If in doubt rule it incomplete is absolutely backwards. Some cases like the Dez “catch” will involve a ball that is out of bounds when it comes out, but many more will involve balls that are in the field of play when knocked loose.

    If the ref blows the play dead and calls an incomplete that will deny the D a chance to recover/return the ball and you can’t properly fix that on reply. Much better to rule a catch as a catch, and if on replay it is clear that it wasn’t a catch then there is no harm and they rule it an incomplete and the offense keeps the ball with a lost down and they can even put some time back on the game clock.

  46. how much clearer does it have to be?

    the three pictures show it clearly;

    1. receiver hits ground

    2. BALL HIT GROUND

    3. ball comes free;

    INCOMPLETE PASS;

    the ONLY way that pass is complete is if the ground is the wide receiver, in which case Bryant is unnecessary (which in almost every possible way, he is–not even close to being a top tier wide receiver, merely an over-glorified no. 1.5 WR);

  47. dreemeagle says:
    Jul 19, 2016 6:34 AM
    how much clearer does it have to be?

    the three pictures show it clearly;

    1. receiver hits ground

    2. BALL HIT GROUND

    3. ball comes free;

    INCOMPLETE PASS;

    the ONLY way that pass is complete is if the ground is the wide receiver, in which case Bryant is unnecessary (which in almost every possible way, he is–not even close to being a top tier wide receiver, merely an over-glorified no. 1.5 WR);
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Please. Dez caught that ball between the 5 and 4 yard lines. What you see in those pictures is called “down by contact” approximately 10 feet later around the 1 yard line.

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