This blog normally comments on college football and college basketball, but we saw the Super Bowl, saw the Corey Clement catch, saw the Zach Ertz catch, heard Cris Collinsworth, waited with all of America for the reviews, so we have to get this off our chest. Philadelphia, you are mad at the wrong person. US Rep Brendan Boyle, your anger is misdirected.
The man we should all have in our sights is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The catch rule is his rule. The catch rule is clearly a bad rule. Here’s how you can tell if a rule is poorly conceived:
- Fans can’t watch the game with confidence that what they see is what they’ll be told they saw.
- Announcers can’t reliably interpret or explain the rule and can’t watch the game with confidence that what they see is what they’ll be told they saw.
- On field referees can’t consistently make calls in compliance with the rule. Like the rest of us, they wait to be told what they saw.
- A pinstriped suit in New York City is required to interpret the rule and tell everyone in the stadium what they saw. After the fact. After an interminable pause in the action.
- The offensive team’s momentum is broken.
- The defensive team is awarded an unofficial timeout.
The catch rule violates all six precepts of football enjoyment. Cris Collinsworth is not to blame for speculating on the possible rulings of the Corey Clement catch and the Zach Ertz catch. While it is true that those plays were obvious catches for 100 years of Pro Football, it is no longer obvious in the age of the Roger Goodell catch rule. Collinsworth was filling air time and was not maliciously ruining the evening for Eagles’ fans or the rest us football fans for that matter.
The catch rule is ill-conceived for two reasons:
- The rule supplies the defense with a twelfth player, a player not in uniform, a player known for 100 years as the ground.
- It turns pass receivers into a separate category of player by introducing boundary rules applicable only to them. Every other category of player can break the boundary of the goal line and instantaneously score a touchdown, irrespective of any subsequent loss of control of the ball. A receiver’s play is interpreted differently. Every other player can lose control of the ball after breaking the out-of-bounds boundary. Not a receiver. A player not even on the field of play—the ground out of bounds—can invalidate a catch. How absurd!
Fixing the rule is quite simple:
- The moment any player in contact with the ball breaks a boundary, sideline or goal line or end line, the play is over. Instantaneously. No action following the boundary break has any effect on the play.
- A catch ends the moment a player secures possession of the ball, after which all players are runners. All players can then advance the ball, fumble the ball or be tackled.
If we adopt these simple rule changes we can delete forever from the announcers’ lexicon the abominable phrases: “The ball was moving,” and “He didn’t complete the process.”
As for the two catches in review during the Super Bowl: Both were disputable under the Goodell catch rule—which was Collinsworth’s point—and both were good catches under the more logical revisions suggested above. Ertz was clearly a runner, having taken three strides before reaching the twelfth defender in the end zone. Clement’s foot that violated the back of the end line was step number three after securing the ball, not step number two.
So, the pinstriped suit gave us the calls we wanted, the Eagles received a well-deserved win, Collinsworth did his usual, exemplary job, and Pat’s fans will just have to suck it up.