Monday, September 8, 2008

My Continuing and Tragic Exclusion from the NFL Rules Committee: The Force-Out Rule

Under the NFL's "force-out rule," which has now been eliminated, a catch was ruled valid if, in the judgment of the officials, the player's feet came down out of bounds only because an opposing player had forced him out of bounds. The element of judgment in the rule went as judgment-based rules tend to go in the NFL, which is to say very poorly, so the rule was eliminated in favor a straightforward, non-ambiguous, no-nonsense standard: if the receiver gets both feet in bounds while demonstrating possession of the ball, it's a valid catch; if not, it's not a valid catch. Blow whistle, next down.

The elimination of the rule all but invites defending players to seize receivers in mid-leap and bodily carry them out of bounds as they hold the ball. So long as the receiver doesn't get both feet down, it's not a catch. Right?

Well, oddly, a member of the NFL rules committee, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, declares otherwise:

I think it's a good rule. ... You either get the feet in or your don't. It's a reward for a good play if you can get him out of bounds. But there is also an element of forward progress involved, so if the guy is five yards from the boundary and makes the catch, you essentially stop his progress, it's going to be ruled a catch. You're not going to have a situation where you take a guy from here and run him and dump him out of bounds." [emphasis mine]
Um, why aren't you, Jeff? Isn't that exactly what you'll have? As for stopping progress, there can be no progress to stop if a receiver hasn't demonstrated possession of the ball. So long as his feet haven't touched the ground, there's no possession and therefore no progress.

Moreover, what if the defender carries the receiver to an out-of-bounds spot that's the same direction as the receiver was trying to go -- like, say, out the back of the end zone? In such a case, he will not have stopped his progress, but contributed to it right up until he deposits the receiver out of bounds, at which point it is an incomplete pass because both feet never touched in bounds.

Fisher proposes replacing one judgment call with another. Why would that be an improvement?

Instead, the rule should have been left intact, and the NFL should reverse its perverse standard that judgment-based calls are not subject to challenge. Judgment calls should be open to review under the regular challenge rules. It's bizarre to suggest otherwise.

Also, the NFL needs to adopt the college standard whereby a valid reception requires only one foot in bounds. And it needs to adopt the college overtime format. And most of all it needs to add me to the NFL rules committee.


Martin R. said...

Of course if you introduced a rule that said that you could only kick the ball rather than handle it, this would remove the need for such nuanced rules. Imagine the fun everyone would have chasing after that bobbling ball.
I understand that this is not considered a useful contribution to the debate and I was unsurprised to find my application to the NFL rules committee returned to me with postage to pay.

Dale said...

Martin, I hear you. They won't even take my calls any more. Really, is it excessive to call them 30 to 40 times a day in the off-season, and roughly twice that during the season? I say no. It's why we have telephones, am I right? They're so thin-skinned!