Earlier in the offseason, the NFL made minor adjustments to the rulebook to help define a catch more clearly for the players and the fans. Wednesday, the league released a video trying to help explain it. This was a great opportunity for the league to provide video examples and detailed wording of the rules to clear things up; however, the NFL failed, once again, to make things easy to understand.
First, a few positives. The video does a good job breaking down the elements of a catch into three parts: control the catch, two feet (or one other body part) on the ground, and become a runner. That much is clear.
But where the video fails is describing those individual aspects. The first two parts are fairly simple: control the ball and get two feet down. However, the third element of a catch, establishing yourself as a runner, goes completely unexplained. Here’s how the 2016 NFL rulebook describes it:
A player has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.
While that seems pretty simple, it’s actually kind of hard to imagine visually. We know what it looks like when a player avoids contact, but what does it look like when a player is capable of avoiding contact? This video would have been a great opportunity to show so examples of when a player has visually established himself as a runner, but unfortunately this is their visual representation of becoming a runner:
Wow, very helpful, NFL.
Another problem with the video is soft, subjective wording of the rules. Take this excerpt:
“If the football comes loose simultaneous or near simultaneous with the second foot coming down, the pass is incomplete.”
“Near simultaneous?” What does that mean? How much leeway are you giving? In fact this entire “near simultaneous” stipulation is nowhere to be found in the rulebook. This seems like a way for the NFL to hedge their bets in case they blow another call in the future.
Finally, the examples the NFL does end up using in the video are some of the most black-and-white clear examples of catches and incompletions. If the NFL is serious about helping the fans and players understand the rules better, they need to show some of the more confusing examples from the past. Explain why Dez didn’t catch it, show me how Golden Tate’s catch against the Bears was a touchdown and not an interception. Is this a touchdown or not?
The NFL was either too afraid to bring back those embarrassing plays or they realize the rulebook, as it stands, is not sufficient enough to completely clarify these grey-area plays.
The NFL’s latest attempt to explain the new rules does nothing to answer any of the important questions facing the catch controversy. It’s simply another failed attempt to connect with fans on what should be a fairly simple issue.