College football used to be fun. Because college teams make more mistakes than pro teams, they are more fun to watch and far less predictable. Because college kids are affected by girl friend breakups, lack of pocket change, pressure from moms, studying for finals, and the relentless, hazardous search for weed, their performances are far less predictable than pro performances. Because college football evokes our most primitive tribal loyalties and insanities, it used to be more fun than pro football.
Instant replay to interpret arcane and illogical rules has ruined the fun. I watch more college football than 16-year old boys surf porn so maybe the numbing repetition of instant replay stoppages affect me more than they do the casual fan. On any given Saturday I am tortured by one to two dozen stoppages during which play-by-play announcers and their color commentating sidekicks regale me with irrelevant and inaccurate interpretations of rules they clearly don’t understand. I make a guess and wait impatiently to be told what I just saw. For the season, I’m batting somewhere around .500. Plays I think are good, are bad; plays I think are bad, are good. The faceless apparatchicks at the league office are capricious.
On the field, a defense that had been under duress, takes an unauthorized rest and regroups. An offense that had built momentum has its mojo stolen by the interruption in its attack. The flow of the game has been altered by people who aren’t in the stadium.
If fans are to enjoy watching college football, they must be able to understand the rules and reliably interpret what they see in real time. If fans are to enjoy watching college football, the TV personalities that guide their viewing experience must be able to understand the rules and reliably interpret what they see in real time. There’s the rub. No one understands the arcane rules in place today and no one can predict how the faceless apparatchicks will interpret the rules.
In their defense, the replay officials have been handed a set of illogical, inconsistent, cryptic, abstruse, and inscrutable rules by some other faceless apparatchicks. [Yes, I consulted the thesaurus for that list and it still doesn’t convey my anger properly.] That’s the root cause of our problems: the rules committee has ruined the game of college football and the replay officials have been employed in a misguided quest “to get it right.”
The rules that cause the most infuriating replay decisions are those governing what constitutes the “catch” of a forward pass. Tens of thousands of “catches” and thousands of touchdowns scored in the 80s and 90s wouldn’t count today. So, the first problem is that the rules are inconsistent with the history of college football and have rendered meaningless the entire store of record books.
The second problem is that the catch rules for receivers are inconsistent with the rules for all other players on the field. When a runner contacts the ground with any body part other than a hand or a foot, the runner is “down” and the play ends instantly. If the runner loses control of the ball before contacting the ground and subsequently loses possession after contact with the ground, it is a fumble. However, if the runner maintains control before contacting the ground and coughs up the ball following contact with the ground, his team retains possession. Not so for a receiver who must “survive contact with the ground.”
A receiver has a twelfth opponent on the field, an opponent not in uniform, an opponent known as the ground. In addition to being inconsistent, the idea that a runner faces eleven opponents and a receiver faces twelve, is unfair. Once the replay begins, the inane comments from the TV people begin: “the ball was moving,” and “the ball touched the ground” are the usual drivel.
If officials can accurately determine when runners have control of the football they can accurately determine when receivers have control of the football. When a receiver gains control of the football, it is instantaneously a “catch” and he becomes a runner and all rules about runners can be applied consistently. This isn’t rocket science. It just requires a few clear-thinking people to fix the mistakes of people who think less clearly.
In addition to fumble/incomplete pass rules, boundary rules must also become consistent for receivers and runners. When a runner reaches the ball across the goal line, “breaks the plane,” it is instantaneously a touchdown and nothing that happens subsequently matters a bit. The runner can lose control of the football without repercussion. Not so for the receiver who has an extra opponent in the end zone called the ground.
When a runner contacts territory outside the field boundaries, the play is instantly over and nothing that happens subsequently matters a bit. Not so for the receiver who has an additional opponent. That opponent, of course, is the ground. The receiver must survive contact with ground that is not on the field of play. Say that ten times and tell me if it ever makes sense to you
If the catch rule were revised to simply require control of the football, and if receivers became runners immediately upon controlling the football, these problems would vanish, the game would become understandable, the game would flow smoothly, and the game would become fun again.