The catch rule would benefit from one additional tweak


After years of wrestling with the proper formulation of the catch rule, the NFL finally figured it out a few years ago. But there’s still one more change that needs to be made in order to make the rule as clear as it can be.

The league should embrace a requirement that the ball should never touch the ground, at any part of the process of completing the catch. Even if the ball is otherwise secure in the hands of the person trying to catch it.

Years of confusion regarding the contours of the catch rule commenced when the NFL decided that the non-catch by Bucs receiver Bert Emanuel in the 1999 NFC Championship should have been a catch. In that case, Emanuel had both hands on either side of the ball, but it touched the ground. Under the rules at the time, that wasn’t a catch. Thus, the ruling on the field of a catch was properly overturned via replay review.

The NFL later decided that such efforts should count as a catch, sparking ambiguity and inconsistency that left no one knowing what a catch really is. Even now, the fact that the ball touches the ground doesn’t immediately nullify a catch. Frankly, it should.

It’s a clear standard, one that makes it easier to determine whether rulings on the field were clearly and obviously wrong. If the ball ever touches the ground before the full process of the catch has been completed, it’s not a catch.

This would eliminate any conversations about whether the ball touched the ground but didn’t touch the ground to the point where the ground assisted the catch, or whatever. The analysis would boil down to one question. Did the ball touch the ground?

We saw it last night in the Seahawks-Washington game. A fourth-and-goal throw by Taylor Heinicke to Logan Thomas was ruled a touchdown. The ball touched the ground. ESPN rules analyst John Parry, a former referee, opined that it wasn’t clearly and obviously not a catch.

Under the pre-Emanuel rule, it wouldn’t have even been a discussion. The ball touched the ground. No catch, even if he had control of the ball when it struck the turf.

The ball did indeed touch the ground in the Bert Emanuel case. It wasn’t a catch. It shouldn’t have been a catch. For decades, that rule made sense. If the ball doesn’t touch the ground, it’s a catch. If it touches the ground, it’s not a catch.

At a time when the NFL constantly should be looking for ways to improve officiating, making it easier to officiate indirectly improves officiating. It would considerably be easier to officiate what is and isn’t a catch if the NFL retreated to the rule that the ball must never touch the ground at any point of the process of making the catch.

24 responses to “The catch rule would benefit from one additional tweak

  1. I prefer the ball can touch the field during the process as long as it is controlled and doesnt move.

  2. Don’t agree. Sometimes you do get a vague, in-between catch where the ball hits the ground but may or may not have been fully secured but most of the time it’s pretty obvious whether or not the receiver caught it and had control. A good catch shouldn’t be nullified just because the receiver incidentally had one part of the ball touch the ground

  3. Wasn’t there another TD by Calvin Johnson who clearly had control of the ball, let the ball touch the ground even though it never moved in his hand they overturned it by your rule they decided that that catch and another one that year should have been catches and thus the new version of the rule.

  4. I like it. It may feel ‘backwards’ moving to some, but it makes the rule very clear and leaves little to no wiggle room on interpretation. Something all fans would benefit from right now with NFL referees

  5. I disagree as a former receiver that the proposed tweak would eliminate basically any catch where the receiver gets his hands under with control but then lands on top of his hands and ball. That in itself compresses the pigskin and is bound to cause part of the leather to make contact with grass.

    It’s better to keep diving catches as a play in the NFL and just make the delineation whether the catcher had gotten under it and controlled it, and never lost control because of the force.

    It’s really very easy to see what hits those criteria, minus sometimes the camera angle makes it a close call whether ball hit grass before becoming secured.

  6. It’s a good thing this guy doesn’t have a seat at the table. He’s the king of awful ideas.

  7. What constitutes the end of the “process of making the catch”? Are we not opening up that can of worms again? I am all for simplifying the play book.

  8. Absolutely not. As referenced above, clearly Calvin Johnson had (and maintained) possession of the ball through the act. Not one single person could reasonably say that he didn’t come down with it.
    Then, we’ve got Dez Bryant and his “non-catch” or Jesse James, etc with theirs… Where do/can we actually draw the line and say enough is enough?
    There’s absolutely no way (though there is reason) to implement a hard fast rule such as this. There’d immediately be at least thousands next week screaming about what was obviously a catch that wasn’t.
    This is a multi billion dollar industry, that’s growing by the moment. I’m not paid to figure out the logistics of it- they are. I do, however, know a catch when I see one… and I’m not referencing any of the “iffy” stuff, that’s another debate.

  9. The ball should NEVER touch the ground. Period. IF the WR claims they controlled the ball ,then don’t let it touch the ground. Edelman did it in the Super Bowl vs the Falcons… of the best catches EVER.

  10. In other words, Dez didn’t catch it, Megatron didn’t catch it, Bert didn’t catch it, no one caught it. No ambiguity.

    Fine by me. And if that discourages some quarterbacks from trying to avoid interceptions by throwing everything at the receiver’s shoestrings, all the better.

  11. This is awful….and I like how the first sentence is “the nfl finally figured it out “. THEY HAVE?!?

  12. The Calvin Johnson non-catch in 2010 against the Bear was far more ridiculous than the Bert Emanuel one. Johnson got both feet down, his butt and knee hit the ground inbounds in the endzone and then the ball comes out of his hand when he uses it touch the ground.
    With Emanuel, it was almost simultaneous contact with his legs and elbows striking the ground causing the ball to move. That it would now be ruled a catch is absurd.
    Because if that’s a catch and the Johnson play isn’t, then the rules need to be changed.

  13. I think part of it is the league secretly likes the controversy. But I agree. Inherent in a catch is the ball not hitting the ground.

  14. I can’t argue with Mike. Since the refs who look at the replay all too often still get it wrong, remove one of their biggest stumbling blocks. I mean, it’s plain as day whether the guy caught it or not, but whoever is looking at the video needs glasses.

  15. Why dont we just make all throws live balls? Eliminate incomplete passes and the need to review anything? Moves the game right along?

  16. If they make that tweak, wouldn’t it essentially be going back to the rule as it was when the Bert Emanuel catch was overturned?

  17. You lose a lot of offensive production of the rule is as black n white as “touch ground = no catch”

    The nfl wants points. It’s offense-centric

    Don’t be surprised when the nfl goes back to ONE FOOT INBOUNDS is a catch because they will generate more yards/points/excitement

  18. I agree but have a different formulation. I would say it is a catch it control is secured before the ball touches the ground. The problem often is identifying whether the ground or hands are securing control. If it’s the same time or similar time under my proposal it isn’t a catch.

    I grew up playing two sports where catching was a core component. Of the two it’s only football which has a bizarre rule element to the catch process. Most sports can easily spot what is and what isn’t a catch.

  19. Yeah, a real eureka moment… The rule that the ball cannot touch the ground has been a staple in school yards FOREVER. It’s simple and clear. If the ball touches the ground (regardless of control or anything else), it is not a catch.

    So, yes, go back to the school yard rule.

  20. I think it’s a good idea: remove ambiguity and put refs in better position to make the right call instead of having to make snap decisions at game speed based on open-to-interpretation rules that could be debated endlessly while watching replays.

    I also like the idea of scaling back some of the constant rule changes benefiting offenses. The NFL might want to look at that as a goal in-and-of itself, especially if the league wants to expand the number of teams. There has to be more ways to win than “have a top-10 quarterback” if there are going to be more teams, or an expansion will just dilute the product and create more cannon fodder teams like the Jags, Lions, Jets, etc.

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