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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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30 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?

There are 3 different rule books....HS, NCAA and NFL.  There are more similarities between NFL and HS, but they are different.  Just like being down...NFL, you have to be touched, but HS you do not.  The catch rule is different also.  While I agree that the thought process should be used, and some of the NFL guidelines can be used at the HS level, the rules are different.  I have talked about other NFL guidlines on this board before and they seemed to be discounted and "cannot use at HS" comments.  You cannot pick and choose.  According to NFL rules, that was not a catch....the Dez play was not a catch, etc.  The NFL rule makes it easy to determine in REPLAY.  

 

In HS football, I am guessing almost every HS official would have given the Pittsburgh reciever a catch and spotted it at the 1, because the knee was down.  In real time, that is what eye saw.  I call BS that you would go over to the coach and say that the ball moved after WR lunged into Endzone.  Plus what would you say?  You cannot use the terms "did not maintain control after contact with ground" because that is not in HS book.....Only in replay did you see the ball move.  No where in the HS book does it talk about maintaining control after hitting ground.  It does not even talk about a "football move".  Those are all terms created for the NFL.  Just like "outside the tackle box"...how many times do you hear that in a season???  The rules are different...

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I have only referenced the 2 NFL mentions, the one in the OP and the one fbofficial posted from the NFL, they are not the same, why?  That is the question, all I hear on here is that they are the same, but they are not.  2 cites from the NFL, and both with different definition, why?

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20 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

I have only referenced the 2 NFL mentions, the one in the OP and the one fbofficial posted from the NFL, they are not the same, why?  That is the question, all I hear on here is that they are the same, but they are not.  2 cites from the NFL, and both with different definition, why?

I still disagree with what you are saying is initial and the fact you don't see that it says after initial. He did not maintain possession after his initial contact with the ground. 

Also if you superman a catch with 1 hand and the other hands comes to the ground and the first thing that touches is your pinkie then you lose possession before the  rest of your hand contacts the ground do you want that to be a catch? 

 

It says AFTER INITIAL contact and in the steelers plays he lost the ball a split second after initial contact so he did not maintain possession after initial contact 

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16 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

I have only referenced the 2 NFL mentions, the one in the OP and the one fbofficial posted from the NFL, they are not the same, why?  That is the question, all I hear on here is that they are the same, but they are not.  2 cites from the NFL, and both with different definition, why?

I believe one is the rule and the other is in a supporting document (Operations Manual?). In NFHS there are case book plays and NCAA has approved rulings. Both have study guides that are produced to help explain what the rules mean. I presume the Operations Manual may be a similar document.

I appreciate you trying to understand this and not being a jerk about it. I can pretty confidently say though the "survive the ground" philosophy is well beyond just the split second any part of his body touches the ground. It's all part of a process. Where that can get fuzzy is if he is taking steps as he's going to the ground as in Dez Bryant's play. Some will argue he didn't go to the ground until after he completed the catch. A good philosophy I heard was if the runner has enough control to be able to stop and/or change direction, he's not going to the ground. He's now a runner. In Dez' case he was going to the ground the entire time. He was just able to get his feet under him a couple times in the process. These are the kinds of comments and discussions officials have on a regular basis to try to get consistency into these types of judgment calls.

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So why not make terminology just match?  By the supporting doc, you can say that it was a catch--control was maintained AFTER INITIAL contact, not long after, but since the INITIAL contact is not what caused it to come loose by using that definition you can call it a catch, no limits on how long after listed.  

My issue becomes officials have cited a rule and a supporting document on here that CAN CONFLICT with each other, depending on how they are interpreted, any to me that should not happen, use the same lingo, same definition in both documents.  

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45 minutes ago, iubirdman said:

So why not make terminology just match?  By the supporting doc, you can say that it was a catch--control was maintained AFTER INITIAL contact, not long after, but since the INITIAL contact is not what caused it to come loose by using that definition you can call it a catch, no limits on how long after listed.  

My issue becomes officials have cited a rule and a supporting document on here that CAN CONFLICT with each other, depending on how they are interpreted, any to me that should not happen, use the same lingo, same definition in both documents.  

They aren't in conflict. One states the rule and the other provides further clarification. That's what these documents often do. You are trying to read way too literally into the rule, and I'm trying to help you understand what it means. There are no NFL officials who are confused about it.

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If you read what is says, then yes there are times that you can have a catch under 1 interpretation and not the other.  

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1 hour ago, iubirdman said:

If you read what is says, then yes there are times that you can have a catch under 1 interpretation and not the other.  

I still think the Troy P plays shows you what initial contact is. You still want it to be the first thing that touches the ground but even with that he didn't maintain possession after that, he dropped it right after his knee hit. Yes other parts hit but he dropped it. I think the Troy P one is a perfect case that should of been a catch that was ruled incomplete. Everyone talks about Calvin Johnson in week 1 of 2010 the Troy P play was in a playoff game that the steelers almost lost because of this play. Maybe if vandernuts makes that kick people would talk about this play more

Edited by Huge football fan

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8 hours ago, fbofficial said:

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.  

I think the "initial contact with the ground" is being misinterpreted.  It's not meant to be the first body part other than a hand or foot in contact with the ground.  Think of a receiver laying out to catch a pass, he may have control of the ball when his elbow or stomach touches the ground but that does not mean its an official catch at that time.  

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4 hours ago, iubirdman said:

If you read what is says, then yes there are times that you can have a catch under 1 interpretation and not the other.  

Correct....Only replay overturned that Pittsburgh catch.  In HS most if not all officials would have put the ball at 1/2 yard line, knee was down....or gave the TD signal.  In HS rules, that was a catch.  In NFL, that was not a catch.  Remember, we are all going off of replay, slo motion.....

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3 hours ago, falconsfbref said:

Correct....Only replay overturned that Pittsburgh catch.  In HS most if not all officials would have put the ball at 1/2 yard line, knee was down....or gave the TD signal.  In HS rules, that was a catch.  In NFL, that was not a catch.  Remember, we are all going off of replay, slo motion.....

I disagree that it was a catch in HS. He still has to hold the ball through contact with the ground. He didn’t.

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We are making this harder than it is. Simplify your thought process. And let me repeat. In terms of the way the rules are interpreted, there is no difference in the rules regarding a “catch,” at any level, except for the 1 foot in vs. 2 feet inbounds, which has no applicability here. Thanks to Bison for the heads up on this article.

http://www.footballzebras.com/2017/12/20/former-nfl-officials-supervisor-says-replay-got-catch-reversal-correct/

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11 hours ago, bobref said:

We are making this harder than it is. Simplify your thought process. And let me repeat. In terms of the way the rules are interpreted, there is no difference in the rules regarding a “catch,” at any level, except for the 1 foot in vs. 2 feet inbounds, which has no applicability here. Thanks to Bison for the heads up on this article.

http://www.footballzebras.com/2017/12/20/former-nfl-officials-supervisor-says-replay-got-catch-reversal-correct/

Again...that is the NFL rule.....Show me in the NFHS book that definition of a catch??? Casebook??  Anything???? The NFL got the play right in REPLAY....not in real-time.  In HS, 99/100 officials are calling that a catch.  You going to go over and tell coach the ball moved a little after his knee was down?  No way.....

Now, if you want to all use NFL/College guidleines and interpretations, I am ok with it....but in the past on this board....those guidelines were told did not apply in HS football.....

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1 hour ago, falconsfbref said:

Again...that is the NFL rule.....Show me in the NFHS book that definition of a catch??? Casebook??  Anything???? The NFL got the play right in REPLAY....not in real-time.  In HS, 99/100 officials are calling that a catch.  You going to go over and tell coach the ball moved a little after his knee was down?  No way.....

Now, if you want to all use NFL/College guidleines and interpretations, I am ok with it....but in the past on this board....those guidelines were told did not apply in HS football.....

Here is the HS definition of a catch again:

Rule 2-4-1 (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.

The common philosophy taught (but not necessarily followed) by many is to survive the ground or become a runner by making a football move. You won't find those terms in the rule book just like you won't find point of attack in terms of holding or the 6 categories of DPI. But if you attend clinics and association meetings, these are the common philosophies taught. Some do come down from NFL and NCAA and can be applied IF supported by rule. In this case they are because the rule does contain the words bolded above.

I do agree in this example it would be extremely unlikely for an official to see that bobble in real time and it would likely be ruled a catch. But if the ball squirted away from him rather than staying close after it hit the ground, most trained HS officials would rule it incomplete.

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2 hours ago, BisonUmpire said:

Here is the HS definition of a catch again:

Rule 2-4-1 (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.

The common philosophy taught (but not necessarily followed) by many is to survive the ground or become a runner by making a football move. You won't find those terms in the rule book just like you won't find point of attack in terms of holding or the 6 categories of DPI. But if you attend clinics and association meetings, these are the common philosophies taught. Some do come down from NFL and NCAA and can be applied IF supported by rule. In this case they are because the rule does contain the words bolded above.

I do agree in this example it would be extremely unlikely for an official to see that bobble in real time and it would likely be ruled a catch. But if the ball squirted away from him rather than staying close after it hit the ground, most trained HS officials would rule it incomplete.

Completly agree. My only point is the Pittsburgh play was overturned in REPLAY.  In HS, almost everyone in that situation would have called a TD or put the ball at the 1/2 yardline. The WR was down at that point and ball was dead, and even waiting for the turn and lunge, at full speed, the ball doesnt move enough.  My thing is the rules are different for a reason, most have to do with safety, but they are different.  

 

And to open up another discussion.....attending clinics run by NCAA/NFL and you will learn and follow their philosophies and I agree...become better.  The local association meetings are a different story.   Assuming you go to IOA meetings, you might be teaching those things.....but in the numerous other associations, they are not.   Heck, we cannot even get the IHSAA to tell us which of the 10 plays they sent us to watch, if they were targeting, blindside block, or nothing.  We are kind of own our own in the HS football officiating world in Indiana.....

 

 

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Any opinions on the new NFL catch rule?  Would it make the HS official's job easier/harder/or have no effect were it to be adopted by the HS federation?

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53 minutes ago, gindie said:

Any opinions on the new NFL catch rule?  Would it make the HS official's job easier/harder/or have no effect were it to be adopted by the HS federation?

I can’t see that it will have a lot of impact. The rule hasn’t changed at th e high school level. Now, will we be told to interpret it differently than in years past? Your guess is as good as mine.

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I think this will make it harder for the NFL guys. The previous rule was fairly clear and took away a lot of judgment. If you are going to the ground, maintain control and don't let the ball hit the ground. Now there is a lot of judgment about whether there is an additional act. They took away black and white and added some gray. I think you'll see a lot more inconsistency (or at least perceived inconsistency) and previous incomplete passes turn into catch/fumble. It may be better or it may be worse. Time will tell.

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