NFL's Goodell: Process rule needs an overhaul

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) catches a pass then twists to stretch the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the New England Patriots with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh,  Dec. 17, 2017. Upon video review, the touchdown call was reversed and the pass was ruled incomplete. The Patriots held on to win 27-24.

Minneapolis — In one of the biggest regular-season games last season, a Week 15 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, an improbable comeback was not be after a touchdown pass from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to tight end Jesse James was overturned — a victim to the league’s convoluted and controversial rule about what constitutes a catch.

That’s why the NFL is going back to the drawing board with the rule that’s been tweaked multiple times in recent years, but continues to frustrated coaches, players and fans.

At his Super Bowl news conference on Wednesday, commissioner Roger Goodell elaborated on his latest efforts to get the rule right.

More: Schwartz: Coaching Lions ‘an awesome time in my life’

“The officials are officiating that correctly,” Goodell said. “What we have to do is find a rule that we think defines what should be a catch. We had several Hall of Fame players in the office two weeks ago, we had several coaches, several officials and we spent three hours, looked through 150 different plays, and tried to look for what we think it is we think should be a catch and then what the rule should be to make sure that’s deemed as a catch on the field.

“We have some very good ideas that we’re going to submit to the competition committee,” Goodell said. “There’s going to be a lot of focus on going to the ground. It’s been part of the confusion for everyone in respect to that rule. I think we have a great opportunity here to get this rule right so that everyone understands it, appreciates it and that’s the focus going forward.”

Goodell offered little information when asked about specific recommendations, but noted the plan wasn’t to add or subtract to the current rule’s language, but to rewrite the rule from scratch.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

“When you add or subtract things, you can still lead to confusion,” Goodell said. “These rules are very complex. You have to look at what the unintended consequences are of making a change. That’s what the competition committee does so well, with so much thought.

“My history on this, whether it’s celebration rule, extra point, or any rule we’ve implemented, we try to encourage (the committee) to focus on two or three things that will make a big difference in our game. Clearly, catch or no catch has a lot discussion and a lot of disagreement over and I think we can clarify this rule.”

More: Fox gets NFL on Thursday night for 5 years, $3B

Goodell rejected the idea that there’s a single, common sense approach. He said even his panel of experts frequently disagreed on what constitutes a reception when recently reviewing borderline plays.

For example, Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter is a believer in the current concept that possession must be maintained through the process, and a catch is only complete once a receiver hands the ball to the official after the play. Goodell said others in the room favored a simpler two-feet-down-with-possession standard.

The commissioner has given up on the idea the league can escape controversy, regardless of how the rule is ultimately worded.

“I’m not going to tell you there won’t be controversy, but I think we can get to a much better place,” he said.

Here are a few other notes from Goodell’s news conference:

■ The injury rate for Thursday games was slightly higher than Sunday games for the first time in five years, but wasn’t significant. The league won’t overreact to this year’s data.

■ Goodell confirmed the Kansas City will play the Los Angeles Rams in Mexico City in 2018.

■ With the Panthers on the block, the league’s owners prefer to keep the franchise in Carolina, but it’s unlikely there will be a mandate attached to the sale. Relocation would require approval of 75 percent of the other owners.

■ Goodell has had no discussions with President Donald Trump about his sustained criticism of players who have protested during the national anthem. The commissioner also declined comment on the leader of that movement, Colin Kaepernick, because of the former quarterback’s collusion lawsuit against the league. Goodell did reiterate he won’t intervene in individual teams’ decisions to sign or cut players.