Solving This Whole NFL Officiating Mess

By Drew Magary
|  Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010  |  Updated 2:00 PM PDT
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You know the backstory by now. Down 19-14 to the Bears with time running out, Detroit Lions QB Shaun Hill found wideout Calvin Johnson in the end zone for what appeared to the game-winning score. But Johnson left the ball on the ground as he was getting up, and the pass was ruled incomplete because he did not “maintain possession” of the ball while on the ground, despite having two feet down while having clear control of the ball.

Everyone on Earth hates this rule. Even former head of NFL officiating Mike Periera agrees that it ”doesn’t pass the smell test.” Yet the NFL remains steadfast in keeping it. Current NFL VP of officiating Carl Johnson defended the rule to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, and said that Johnson’s play could have been deemed a catch had he committed a “second act” after catching the ball, an exception that PFT’s Mike Florio says is not in the NFL rule book.

And with good reason. “Second act” is incredibly vague. How do you know what constitutes a second act and what doesn’t? Should some sort of musical interlude also be involved? It’s nearly as vague and subjective as the “football move” language that refs use to interpret fumbles after the catch.

Periera says this rule exists to eliminate “gray areas” when such a call has to be made. But Johnson’s play screams that the rule is doing the opposite of what it intended. If I have to look for a second act, suddenly everything about the play is cast into doubt when all I really needed to confirm it was a catch was two feet down and control of the ball.

In fact, The Big Lead points out that the NFL rulebook states that:

A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and

(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands.

.. only to then contradict itself with language about going to the ground soon thereafter. That second condition doesn’t need to be there. All that should be there is the rule you see above. I don’t know why you need to add anything to it. I guess the possession maintenance rule makes some sense on diving catches, where the receiver’s torso hits the ground before any part of his lower body does. But you could still follow the above rule and the wideout would have to keep possession of the ball until his knees or butt hit the turf. Because they will. Gravity demands it.

It’s a simple solution to a rule that’s needlessly complex. If you have clear control of the ball with your hands, and you land on your feet, PRESTO! You’ve legally caught the ball. If anything weird happens after that – if you drop the ball, if you hit the ground, if elephants storm the field and kill you – it doesn’t matter. The catch still counts. No second acts. No football moves. No possession through the ground. Those are pointless add-ons that have nothing to do with the initial act of catching the ball.

So Carl Johnson, take a look at your rule book and tear out everything after the above provision. That way, I don’t have to put my fist through the Samsung whenever you people decide to adhere to a rule that makes no bloody sense.

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