Catch rule is dominant subject at NFL meetings

BOCA RATON, Fla. — It’s a catch.

No it’s not.

Even though NFL owners won’t vote on any proposals regarding what constitutes a reception in their games, competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay and officiating director Dean Blandino spent more time trying to clarify the rule and fielding questions about it Monday than on any other subject.

There will be tweaks to the language but no changes in the catch rule. The criteria remain the same: control of the ball; two feet on the ground in bounds; and enough time to clearly become a runner.

Deviating from that, Blandino explained, would severely complicate the officials’ jobs, while the aim is to simplify the calls in real time.

“The key part of the rule allows for consistency in calls on the field,” Blandino said.

The rule also is a factor in player safety issues.

“It’s tied to the defenseless receiver rule,” Blandino said. “You don’t want to shorten the time a receiver is protected from hits to the head, etc.”

Blandino and McKay recognize and readily admit determining what is a catch is among the toughest calls for officials.

They cite the speed of the action — Blandino calls them “bang-bang plays” — and how TV technology has improved. High-definition replays in slow motion can make virtually every play a potential subject for controversy.

The league consulted former and current receivers, coaches, front office personnel and officials while reviewing the catch rule.

“They were unanimous that we need to continue to use video to show examples and teach,” Blandino said. “Not just for the media and fans, but for the players and coaches and officials.”

Blandino also said the league is “working toward” having an eighth official on the field in games beginning in 2017 who would focus on the defensive line, particularly in the run game. With the league recently having moved the umpire behind the offensive backfield, there is added concern about spotting defensive holding in the trenches.

Not surprisingly, Blandino was not enamored of proposals from some teams to expand replay and coaches challenges.

Suggestions have ranged from being allowed to challenge any call except on scores and turnovers, which already are automatically reviewed, to increasing the number of challenges from two to three.

Allowing challenges on penalty calls would lead to “rewriting the rulebook and … create a different look of officiating.”

The proposal to spot the ball at the 25-yard line instead of the 20 on touchbacks on kickoffs is something the competition committee wanted to do several years ago when the kickoff was moved to the 35-yard line.

“We felt like … we’re still getting a lot of returns from deep in the end zone,” McKay said. “This gives the option to take a knee and take (the ball) to the 25.”

One somewhat exotic option the owners discussed Monday was staging a regular-season game in China, perhaps as early as 2018.

A detailed analysis of how much interest there would be in such a game in the world’s most populous country is under way. But few details, including which Chinese city the league will target, have been settled.

Quietly, several teams have expressed a willingness to be involved in a game in China.

This year, the NFL will stage three games in London and return to Mexico for a regular-season game in November.

The NFL had planned to play a preseason game in China once before, in 2007 in Beijing, but it was canceled.

Germany also has expressed interest in hosting an NFL regular-season game.

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