When a catch is not really a catch

Whenever there?s a play in a major sporting event that is controversial, it?s inevitable that rule makers will be asked to consider changes.

It happened again recently in the NFL playoff game won by Green Bay against Dallas.

Dez Bryant apparently caught a long fourth-down pass, which would have given Dallas a first-and-goal from inside the Green Bay one-yard line. If the Cow?boys were able to score the expected touchdown, Green Bay still would have had a few minutes left to come back and tie or win the game.

Alas, the call on the field was overturned by a challenge. By rule, most experts (whoever they are) said overturning the call was the right thing to do. The difficulty is that the rule doesn?t mesh with the reasonable expectations of football fans.

As a former basketball official, I?ll confess that I wasn?t overly fond of rules, because there are so many of them. And it was hard to apply all of them consistently even if I understood them.

In the much talked-about play, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 explains that when a player is going to the ground in the act of catching a pass, he must maintain control ?throughout the process of contacting the ground.? Per Item 4, ?If the ball touches the ground after the player secures control of it, it is a catch, provided that the player continues to maintain control.?

The language meshes with what happened in that game. Bryant went to the ground in the act of catching a pass, the ball hit the ground and he lost control of it.

But to the average, reasonable football coach, player and fan, it looked like a catch. So we had a play, a big play in a big moment of the game that looked like a catch to everyone except maybe some diehard Green Bay fans. Only we are told it wasn?t a catch.

A side issue was whether there was indisputable visual evidence to overturn every aspect of the ruling on the field, which was a completed pass. Yes, the ball struck the ground. But was it indisputable that Bryant failed to complete the act by making a so-called ?football move,? especially since it appeared Bryant was reaching forward toward the goal line with the ball as he was going to the ground.

If the visual evidence was not indisputable, the ruling on the field should have been confirmed.

Don?t be surprised if this rule and the interpretation of the rule is reviewed. That?s what happens when a play of that magnitude occurs at a key moment of a game.

I don?t fault the referee for overturning the call, just as I wouldn?t have blamed him if he had upheld the call on the field. It just goes to show that even with replay, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 is difficult to interpret.

My hunch is that the average person on the street, football fan or otherwise, would have said Bryant caught the ball.

Give Bryant credit for how he handled the situation just hours after the game. Bryant spoke for millions of football followers when he said, ?We lost and I accept it, but please change that rule.?

I saw one headline that summed it up well: ?Dez Bryant?s Amazing Catch Was Not Actually A Catch Because NFL Rules Make Sense To No One.?

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