New England Patriots

The NFL took something bad and made it worse? Stunning.

To be fair, the persistent controversy surrounding NFL catch rules may not actually be worse than it was before this week. But while the proposed changes to the catch rule will solve some problems, it would create new ones in the process. Instead of sewing up the debates among us, we would squawk at each other about something different.

NFL senior VP of officiating Al Riveron tweeted out the league’s recommendations for a new catch rule on Wednesday. Any argument that it’s designed as a reaction to the Jesse James touchdown against the Patriots would hold water. But that’s not the point here; the point is that it could plug a hole or two while opening another one somewhere else.

Under the proposed rule change, a receiver would need possession and two feet down (or another body part) as the first two steps to completing a catch. Simple enough. It’s step three, however, where it gets convoluted:

As you can see, the second provision of recommendation No. 3 would make the Jesse James play a touchdown. Not much wrong with that, considering you can already reach across the goal line to score a touchdown as a runner. The rules should dictate that play to be a touchdown once the ball crosses the plane.

The problem, however, lies with that third provision of “football moves” … what exactly will constitute “the ability to perform such an act”? How will the officials decide whether or not a receiver had “the ability to perform such an act” when he gets the ball stripped? How does this make the difference between a fumble and an incomplete pass any clearer?

Essentially, the NFL’s continued refashioning of the catch rule has turned into a game of Whac-A-Mole. Every time they bash a problem on the head, a new problem pops out of the dirt. So instead of arguing back-and-forth about “surviving the ground” and “maintaining possession through the process”, the 2018 season will be all about debating what is and isn’t a “football move” or the ability to make one.

Whatever the officials end up doing with these new rules during actual games, the most important thing is to reduce or minimize review time. No more quibbling for 14 minutes over whether the ball moved for a nanosecond. If these proposed changes make games flow better and improve the entertainment value of the product, then there’s reason to be happy about them. The officials will never get everything right or make everyone happy, but a better broadcast should do that.

But if the new rules go into effect as they’re written here, the debate over what constitutes a catch won’t go away. It’ll just be different.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.