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The NFL ‘going to the ground’ rule may finally be on its way out

Calvin Johnson, you can come back now.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear that one of the biggest goals for the competition committee this offseason will be to fix the confusing and frustrating catch rules that have plagued this game over the past near-decade.

“It’s not the rule the people really want,” Goodell told Colin Cowherd on back in January. “We’ve got some ideas of how to bring some clarity to that, particularly in the going to the ground, that I think has created a lot of the confusion.”

It appears the league has taken another step towards making that a reality, and the proposed solution is quite simple: Get rid of the “going to the ground” caveat altogether:

While there have been plenty of issues taken with the league’s current set of overly-complicated catch rules, the going to the ground portion has been the source of most of the controversy. It all started with Calvin Johnson’s “non-catch” against the Bears in 2010. It gained further traction with “Dez didn’t catch it”, and it’s still having an impact on a near weekly basis in today’s game.

Here’s how the rule currently reads:

Item 1. 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 that he is 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.

Now, even though this rule change would eliminate the most frustrating part of the rulebook, certain maligned phrases would stick around. Receivers would still have to maintain control of the ball long enough to “become a runner” in cases deciding between a fumble or an incomplete pass (ie: a ball is jarred loose quickly after a “catch” is made). And we’ll still have to do our best to figure out what “a football move” is.

Still, this is a big step in the right direction for the league. If all things go according to plan, the competition committee will vote on this proposal next month and the rule could be in place by the start of next season.

In addition to eliminating the going to the ground rule, the league is considering changing defensive pass interference to be a maximum 15-yard penalty, and looking to change the rules regarding hiring coaches still in the playoffs to avoid a Josh McDaniels-type of situation.

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