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bobref

What is a "catch?"

Question

In light of the controversy swirling around the events in the NFL yesterday, I thought it might be helpful to try and bring a little clarity to the answer to the question on everyone’s mind: “Just what is a completed catch of a forward pass?”

 

The inspiration for this post was the 14th time I heard on the sports talk shows this morning that there is an “inconsistency” in the rule book between a runner with the ball and a receiver catching a pass, when it comes to breaking the plane of the goal line. “If the runner is airborne with the ball, breaks the plane, and the ball comes out when he hits the ground, that’s not a fumble, it’s a touchdown. But if a receiver does the same thing in the course of making a catch, it’s an incompletion,” they shout indignantly. This misconception has, at its roots, ignorance of the definitions that underlie the rule. This ignorance results in unfortunate (and erroneous) comparisons like the above, as well as way too much misplaced righteous indignation.

 

The first definition that’s important to understanding the error of the above statement is what constitutes a touchdown. A touchdown is possession of a live ball in the opponent’s end zone. Remember that word “possession,” it’s going to be important later.

 

The rules of football as to what constitutes a “catch” are essentially the same at every level, the only significant difference being that in the NFL it’s not a catch unless the receiver lands with two feet inbounds, whereas in NCAA and NF it need be only one foot. Otherwise, it’s all the same.

 

By rule, a catch is “the act of establishing possession of a live ball which is in flight, and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds.” There are a couple of key concepts here which get overlooked when the talking heads make comparisons between a runner and a receiver catching the ball. First is the concept of “possession.” A player possesses the ball when he holds or controls it after he has caught it. Yes, this is an indication the rules weren’t drafted by lawyers. I know it’s a bit circular. You can’t have a catch without possessing the ball, but in order to possess the ball you have to catch it. Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. The takeaway here is that a catch requires you to hold or control the ball while coming down inbounds. So, how do you establish that a player is actually holding or controlling the ball? That’s where you hear the term “football move” used, as in “he’s got to have the ball well enough to make a ‘football move’ with it before it’s a catch.” This is really just a shorthand way of saying that he’s got to control the ball, demonstrates that he’s actually got it, by doing something with it. If the player is going to the ground, the demonstration of control requires that he actually hold the ball throughout his contact with the ground, i.e., “secure the catch.”

 

In the goal line situation, the analogy to a runner diving into the end zone is completely misplaced. As we can see from the definitions above, a runner isn’t “establishing possession.” He’s already got possession. And since the ball is in his possession, as soon as it breaks the plane of the goal line, the play is over, and it’s a TD. If the ball comes out afterward, it’s meaningless. Not so an airborne receiver who is in the process of making a catch near the goal line. If he secures the ball while airborne and, while secured, the ball breaks the plane of the goal line, it’s not a TD … yet. That’s because the ball is not actually in his possession until he completes the catch, by controlling the ball throughout his contact with the ground. If it comes out when he goes to the ground, he’s not completed the catch, which means he never possessed the ball. So it’s not only not a TD, it’s not a catch.

 

It’s not really that difficult, once you know the definitions that underlie the rules. The judgment call as to whether a player actually controlled the ball sufficiently is just that: judgment. It will never be free from controversy. But a thorough understanding of the definitions involved is key to understanding the other elements of the issue.

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Serious question, if a player is contacted and goes to the ground, why can the ground cause an incompletion, but not a fumble??  I do think that is an odd part of the discussion.  Take away the goal line in this situation, if he is going down after being tripped up and the ball hits the ground, while in his hands and it pops loose, not a fumble, same thing on a catch, incomplete.  Also what constitutes a "football move" as you say?  To me having control of the ball and extending it to the goal line can be a "football move" in my opinion.  

Of course the rule that I can not stand is the one at the end of the Raiders game, offense fumbles, no one gains control, and it goes out of the endzone it is a touchback.  Seems like if there was no possession and it was forward and out of play, it should go back to the point of the fumble, the defense should actually have to take the ball for there to be a turnover

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25 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

Serious question, if a player is contacted and goes to the ground, why can the ground cause an incompletion, but not a fumble?? 

Same thing as I explained above. A runner already has possession of the ball. The question is whether he was down, i.e., contacted the ground with something other than his foot or hand, before the ball comes out. If he was, then it can't be a fumble because you can only fumble a live ball.

With a receiver, he hasn't caught the ball yet because the catch is not completed until he returns to the ground and holds or controls the ball throughout the act of completing the catch. In other words, the receiver doesn't have possession of the ball until he completes the catch. If the ball comes out when he hit the ground, that is conclusive evidence that he did not hold or control it, which is something you need to have in order to have a "catch."

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I guess the question was more theoretical than a definition.  I am not sure how to best define a catch, but going back to the "catch" that started the discussion with Calvin Johnson catch and there is no way you can look at it and say it was not caught, same wish the Dez catch that highlighted the rule again

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8 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

I guess the question was more theoretical than a definition.  I am not sure how to best define a catch, but going back to the "catch" that started the discussion with Calvin Johnson catch and there is no way you can look at it and say it was not caught, same wish the Dez catch that highlighted the rule again

Maybe you feel that way. I don’t. I saw the Calvin Johnson play live and I said at the time it wasn’t a catch. And it’s not going to be unless they re-write the rule.

And by the way, the rule is not new. What is relatively new is the use of replay technology that makes it much easier to break a catch into its component parts. We didn’t have these controversies before replay advanced to the point where it is now. The “law of unintended consequences” at work. 

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On 12/18/2017 at 11:46 AM, bobref said:

The inspiration for this post was the 14th time I heard on the sports talk shows this morning that there is an “inconsistency” in the rule book between a runner with the ball and a receiver catching a pass, when it comes to breaking the plane of the goal line

Just to be clear, it wasn't the 13th time or the 15th time, it was the 14th time.

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1 hour ago, Impartial_Observer said:

Just to be clear, it wasn't the 13th time or the 15th time, it was the 14th time.

Everyone has his limit.

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bobref,

I went back to youtube to make sure I remembered the Pitt/NE play correctly.  The player had the ball securely in his hands while his knee hit, but lost it when he reached over the goal line.

If you were making the decision the other night, you would decide it the same way?   Would it have made any difference to complete/incomplete had he been touched (down) immediately after his knee hit? 

Edited by gindie

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19 minutes ago, gindie said:

bobref,

I went back to youtube to make sure I remembered the Pitt/NE play correctly.  The player had the ball securely in his hands while his knee hit, but lost it when he reached over the goal line.

If you were making the decision the other night, you would decide it the same way?   Would it have made any difference to complete/incomplete had he been touched (down) immediately after his knee hit? 

Makes no difference. If the player is going to the ground he has to hold the ball securely throughout contact with the ground. If he doesn’t, it’s not a catch, he never had possession, and the knee is irrelevant, since at the time his knee touched he had not yet completed the catch and, therefore, did not have possession of the ball. Having a knee touch is only meaningful if he has possession of the ball at the time.

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about 30 seconds in. Do you want that to be a catch? Also in the NFL if you do want that to be a catch if it's in the field of play do you want it to be a catch and a fumble? 

I get while people can't understand it because they only look at the ez but you would have to have a lot of catch fumbles on diving catches and that's not what the NFL wants. If you are going to the ground you have to survive the ground and "stand up" with the ball. 

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6 hours ago, Huge football fan said:

about 30 seconds in. Do you want that to be a catch? Also in the NFL if you do want that to be a catch if it's in the field of play do you want it to be a catch and a fumble? 

I get while people can't understand it because they only look at the ez but you would have to have a lot of catch fumbles on diving catches and that's not what the NFL wants. If you are going to the ground you have to survive the ground and "stand up" with the ball. 

And we don’t have Umpires signaling a TD while standing several yards deep in the EZ, either. 😝

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NFL Football Operations.....

Player Going to the Ground A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate he is a clearly a runner.  If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone.  If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete.  If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.  

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1 hour ago, fbofficial said:

If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. 

Just a question with this quote, could it not be interpreted that the initial contact with the ground was when the knee hit, and he had control after that INITIAL contact?  Just asking based on the way it is written?  If so how long do you need to maintain control after the initial contact?  Based on how that is written, you can say when he went down and still had control of the ball (both hands were still on it and it was secure) when the INITIAL contact with the ground occurred.  

Just reading this, the key word to me is initial, meaning first, and he had control of the ball when the first contact with the ground occurred.  Again, just based on that post, you could interpret it that he did maintain control thru the initial contact with the ground, could you not?

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But...I agree, it looks like you got the catch definition out of the NF book.  There is a difference between HS, college and NFL besides the 1 foot.  Where in the NF book does it talk about maintaining possession after contact with ground?  The play the other night in Pittsburgh, would you in HS football, call that a catch?  The knee is down, and he has possession....are you going to go tell a coach he lost possession after that? 

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1 minute ago, iubirdman said:

Just a question with this quote, could it not be interpreted that the initial contact with the ground was when the knee hit, and he had control after that INITIAL contact?  Just asking based on the way it is written?  If so how long do you need to maintain control after the initial contact?  Based on how that is written, you can say when he went down and still had control of the ball (both hands were still on it and it was secure) when the INITIAL contact with the ground occurred.  

Just reading this, the key word to me is initial, meaning first, and he had control of the ball when the first contact with the ground occurred.  Again, just based on that post, you could interpret it that he did maintain control thru the initial contact with the ground, could you not?

This becomes a more difficult question given the different rules in the NFL as to when a player is down, since just getting the knee down is not enough. But the basic premise is the same. I interpret your question to be something like this: “A receiver has the pass and goes to the ground with his knee while holding the ball. The ball stays in his hands. Then, he continues to the ground with the rest of his body and as he hits the ground with his arm, the ball comes out.”  That is not a catch at any level. If the receiver is going to the ground, and the ball comes out before the act of going to the ground is completed, it’s not a catch.

3 minutes ago, falconsfbref said:

But...I agree, it looks like you got the catch definition out of the NF book.  There is a difference between HS, college and NFL besides the 1 foot.  Where in the NF book does it talk about maintaining possession after contact with ground?  The play the other night in Pittsburgh, would you in HS football, call that a catch?  The knee is down, and he has possession....are you going to go tell a coach he lost possession after that? 

No, it’s not a catch at the NF Level. Whether the knee goes down or not is inconsequential since that only matters once possession occurs. But you have to complete the catch for there to be possession., which means you have to secure the ball throughout the process of going to the ground.

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28 minutes ago, falconsfbref said:

But...I agree, it looks like you got the catch definition out of the NF book.  There is a difference between HS, college and NFL besides the 1 foot.  Where in the NF book does it talk about maintaining possession after contact with ground?  The play the other night in Pittsburgh, would you in HS football, call that a catch?  The knee is down, and he has possession....are you going to go tell a coach he lost possession after that? 

In high school the Pittsburgh play is a catch because your eyes aren't fast enough to see that the ball moved when his elbow hit the ground and that he uses the ground to help him catch it. Does anyone want the Butch Johnson play from the video to be a td?

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So another question then, why does the rule state INITIAL contact, when according to the officials, it needs to be initial, secondary, and all other contact until you get up.  

By the rule that was posted however, it only states INITIAL contact with the ground, which would be the 1st contact, in the catch in question, it was knee, then shoulder, then elbow, then hand before ball moved a little.  It can be CORRECTLY argued, that he maintained control thru the INITIAL contact with the ground can it not?  If that is actually part of the rule, then it seems like that is in direct conflict with the other quoted rule that was stated that was in the op where it states "If the player is going to the ground, the demonstration of control requires that he actually hold the ball throughout his contact with the ground, i.e., “secure the catch.”" 

We have one citation of the rule that says you have to survive the initial contact with the ground and another that states maintaining control throughout contact with the ground, and those are VERY different definitions that can easily conflict with each other, are they not?

 

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6 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

So another question then, why does the rule state INITIAL contact, when according to the officials, it needs to be initial, secondary, and all other contact until you get up.  

By the rule that was posted however, it only states INITIAL contact with the ground, which would be the 1st contact, in the catch in question, it was knee, then shoulder, then elbow, then hand before ball moved a little.  It can be CORRECTLY argued, that he maintained control thru the INITIAL contact with the ground can it not?  If that is actually part of the rule, then it seems like that is in direct conflict with the other quoted rule that was stated that was in the op where it states "If the player is going to the ground, the demonstration of control requires that he actually hold the ball throughout his contact with the ground, i.e., “secure the catch.”" 

We have one citation of the rule that says you have to survive the initial contact with the ground and another that states maintaining control throughout contact with the ground, and those are VERY different definitions that can easily conflict with each other, are they not?

 

You had me going until I reread it again. It does not say maintain possession "until initial" contact with the ground it says maintain possession "after" initial contact and after his initial contact with the ground, his knee he did not maintain possession, the ball hit the ground. 

 

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3 minutes ago, Huge football fan said:

You had me going until I reread it again. It does not say maintain possession "until initial" contact with the ground it says maintain possession "after" initial contact and after his initial contact with the ground, his knee he did not maintain possession, the ball hit the ground. 

 

He had control of it after the initial contact as well, the initial contact was the knee, still had control of the ball after that when but hit, still after when elbow hit, still after when he went to extend it.  Again one just says after INITIAL contact, one says through the process or whatever, and those can be interpreted as 2 very different things.  How long after initial contact do you need to possess it?  Since in that part of the rule it does not say, but has something else in another area, they can very easily be interpreted differently, and if it is just the part referenced in the OP, why the other mention of it?

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1 hour ago, falconsfbref said:

But...I agree, it looks like you got the catch definition out of the NF book.  There is a difference between HS, college and NFL besides the 1 foot.  Where in the NF book does it talk about maintaining possession after contact with ground?  The play the other night in Pittsburgh, would you in HS football, call that a catch?  The knee is down, and he has possession....are you going to go tell a coach he lost possession after that? 

NFHS rule 2-4-1 - Definition of a catch (emphasis added)

A catch is the act of establishing player possession of a live ball which is in flight and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds.

5 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

He had control of it after the initial contact as well, the initial contact was the knee, still had control of the ball after that when but hit, still after when elbow hit, still after when he went to extend it.  Again one just says after INITIAL contact, one says through the process or whatever, and those can be interpreted as 2 very different things.  How long after initial contact do you need to possess it?  Since in that part of the rule it does not say, but has something else in another area, they can very easily be interpreted differently, and if it is just the part referenced in the OP, why the other mention of it?

You are reading too much into it. A player going to the ground has to survive the contact with the ground. One axiom used is he has to be able to stand up and hand the ball to the official without having lost control. That is probably a little extreme as there will be cases where the ball comes out before that (i.e. player lying on the ground for a couple seconds and the defender swiping the ball out of his hands), but this bobble is well within the context of surviving the ground.

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15 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

He had control of it after the initial contact as well, the initial contact was the knee, still had control of the ball after that when but hit, still after when elbow hit, still after when he went to extend it.  Again one just says after INITIAL contact, one says through the process or whatever, and those can be interpreted as 2 very different things.  How long after initial contact do you need to possess it?  Since in that part of the rule it does not say, but has something else in another area, they can very easily be interpreted differently, and if it is just the part referenced in the OP, why the other mention of it?

From the time his knee hit to the time his elbow hit(that's when he lost it) is less the .3 seconds that doesn't seem like maintaining possession "after" initial contact. You can go back and forth but he didn't catch it while going to the ground. Did not survive the ground and the ball hit the ground when his elbow hits. 

Edited by Huge football fan

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1 minute ago, BisonUmpire said:

NFHS rule 2-4-1 - Definition of a catch (emphasis added)

A catch is the act of establishing player possession of a live ball which is in flight and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds.

You are reading too much into it. A player going to the ground has to survive the contact with the ground. One axiom used is he has to be able to stand up and hand the ball to the official without having lost control. That is probably a little extreme as there will be cases where the ball comes out before that (i.e. player lying on the ground for a couple seconds and the defender swiping the ball out of his hands), but this bobble is well within the context of surviving the ground.

Actually reading it just like it is written!!!  Surviving contact with the ground and being able to get up is not the same as controlling after INITIAL contact, in fact it is WAY different.  There have been 2 sources of the rule posted, they do not say the same thing, why have it listed 2 times?  Just eliminate the part about a player going to the ground that fbofficial posted from the NFL Football operations.  I could say, based on the part from the Football operations that you were reading way to much into it as well with your definition, and both could be correct. 

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Listen, I agree by the 1st rule posted it was incomplete, I also think if you just watch it and someone asks you did he catch it, must people would say, yea, he caught it just not by the NFL definition. 

I also think the 2 rules stated can conflict with each other, and am wondering why they are both included?  Through the process, and after initial contact are 2 totally different things, why have both in the books?  

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1 minute ago, iubirdman said:

Actually reading it just like it is written!!!  Surviving contact with the ground and being able to get up is not the same as controlling after INITIAL contact, in fact it is WAY different.  There have been 2 sources of the rule posted, they do not say the same thing, why have it listed 2 times?  Just eliminate the part about a player going to the ground that fbofficial posted from the NFL Football operations.  I could say, based on the part from the Football operations that you were reading way to much into it as well with your definition, and both could be correct. 

This is where knowing the rule and understanding the spirit and intent of the rule converge. Anyone can read a rule and try to apply it. Spirit and philosophy always support the written rule and is the key part most coaches, fans, and commentators often don't realize. The intent of this rule is NOT to give the receiver the catch the split second any part of his body touches the ground. The way you are trying to interpret it that would be the case. Maybe they used initial to differentiate between when he hits the ground versus when he gets up and starts running (assuming he wasn't touched). The idea behind "survive the ground" is to make sure the player has possession throughout the entire process of going to the ground. In this example that is extremely clear. The discussion points are around whether the ball touched the ground after it came loose or whether this was obvious enough to overturn the call on the field. Those are legitimate discussions and there are experienced officials that disagree on both. But whether or not he survived the ground is not. That part is obvious on replay.

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So why have 2 separate rules defining a catch (or at least written in 2 places that are not the same)?  Just have a single definition, is that to much to ask?

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25 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

So why have 2 separate rules defining a catch (or at least written in 2 places that are not the same)?  Just have a single definition, is that to much to ask?

After reading what bison wrote and I still don't think you are putting the whole maintain possession "after" the initial contact with the ground I take that as knee/elbow/shoulder/head/ankle/butt cheek then after all that initial contact and player is on the ground untouched and then starts to get up like the Troy P pick against the colts and then dropped it while getting up

abkut 30 seconds in

 

 

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