We here at PFT often offer suggestions as to how the game can be improved. And while there’s indeed a fine line between thinking outside the box and kooky talk (a line on which we often reside on the wrong side), the idea formulated during a stream-of-consciousness moment in the PFT PM podcast continues to be an apparent winner as it relates to the catch rule — especially in light of some of the things said Wednesday by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell said during his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference that the league will take a fresh look at the catch rule this year, and that he wants shorter and fewer stoppages for replay review. The best way to address both concerns will be to remove one of the three current elements of the catch rule from the scope of replay review.
The first two elements — whether the player has secured control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground and whether the player has gotten both feet or any part of his body other than his hands in bounds — are inherently objective and can be corrected, or confirmed, by replay review. The third aspect — whether the player had the ball long enough to clearly become a runner — is inherently subjective, and the judgment of the on-field officials should not be subject to frame-by-frame, piece-by-piece second guessing.
“I think it’s an interesting point,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay recently said on PFT Live, “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.”
Unless the league’s decision to retreat to square one when it comes to defining a catch ends up with a different process that eliminates all subjectivity from determining what is and isn’t a catch, any portion of the interpretation of the catch rue that relies on the exercise of judgment should be insulated from replay review, in the same way that other judgment calls, like pass interference are. Then, officials can rely on the real-time, bang-bang, know-it-when-they-see-it sense of what is and isn’t and was or wasn’t a catch.