A Catch is not a Catch


Other than the fact that I wanted to see a Big 10 team beat an ACC team, I had no rooting interest in the College Football Playoff semifinal game that pitted Clemson against Ohio State University (OSU). In the third quarter of this game, a Clemson receiver caught the ball and made, at least, three full steps before the ball came loose. Numerous replays show the ball didn’t move throughout those steps, and the officials on the field declared that the receiver made the catch, he fumbled, and an OSU defender retrieved the ball and took in the end zone. The replay officials, in the booth, carefully examined this play and determined that the receiver did not make the catch.

Announcers, analysts, all players involved, and fans can argue about what the definition of a catch is, per the rules of the league, but two facts undercut the “it was not a catch” argument in this particular instance. The first argument involves our common sense that the receiver did catch the ball, and I consider it ridiculous to suggest otherwise. I don’t care what the league rules dictate, 99.9% of the population from all genders and just about every age group knows that that was the dictionary definition of a catch, and if there is a rule that suggests otherwise, it should include an asterisk that suggests that officials and replay officials use their common sense when needed. The second, and far more frustrating point, is that the replay officials reviewing this play needed indisputable evidence to overturn the call the officials on the field made that this was a catch, and they obviously thought that they found it. One person in the broadcasting booth suggested it was not a catch, and that the replay officials would overturn the officials on the field, because the receiver did not make a football move. The idea that he made, at least, three steps did not move this broadcaster, because those three steps did not advance the ball up the field. This definition is so ridiculous that it almost requires an obnoxious reply, “What if a receiver catches a ball and for whatever reason remains still for an elongated period of time? If he doesn’t make a football move, how long can he remain in that position before the officials officially declare the pass complete?”

The overturned call in this game, coupled with the irrational rationale behind it, made me so sick that I fast-forwarded through a chunk of the game. Again, I had no rooting interest, and I’ve probably rooted against OSU more than I’ve rooted for them in my life, but I cannot shut out that part of my mind that calls for rational, common sense. As illogical and irrational as fast-forwarding through the game to try to pretend the replay officials didn’t overturn the call was at least as illogical and irrational as the call was. 

I imagined being a top broadcaster who is skilled enough and lucky enough to call such a game. I have to imagine that the promotion and the subsequent uptick in salary would change the way I buy products. I would probably buy some large products without any guilt, and I would loosen the purse strings on my budget as the huge checks rolled in. If a play like this happened in a game I was calling, however, I would probably be so sick and irresponsible that my impulses would drive me to ignore the increase in salary and the luxuries it affords me. I would probably also ignore any concerns I have about the network dismissing me after the game. 

“A call like that disgusts me. My heart goes out to all of those involved at OSU who worked so hard to make this day happen, and my heart goes out to their fans too. This replay official just single-handedly robbed all of you of the chance to play for the national championship. I’m sorry Jed,” I would say to my broadcasting partner, who would probably have to lead the search for a new broadcasting partner the next day, “but you make a call like that, you deserve to be fired. I know officials have a tough job, and they need league rules to protect them and provide some parameters that promote consistency in their calls, but to declare that there’s indisputable evidence that that was not a catch just doesn’t make sense to me on any level.”   

In the post-game analysis, some obnoxious fool dropped the obnoxiously foolish comment that all obnoxiously foolish analysts make when an official blows a call that affects a game (Clemson won 29-23). He wrote that to avoid allowing officials decide a game, OSU should’ve scored more touchdowns. He correctly pointed out that OSU had at least two opportunities in the red zone that resulted in field goals. He failed to mention that if Clemson wins the national championship this year, it will be their third in four years. I mention this, to note that if a team wins a national championship, they have to have a competent defense at the very least. If that team wins three of four, their defense is probably great. OSU made some costly mistakes that affected this game, it’s college football after all, but I have some problems with analysts who say a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous live calls from on the field officials. I have greater problems with analysts who say that a team should’ve been able to overcome disastrous calls from a replay official who is able to slow the film down and analyze the play for however long it takes them to reach an official conclusion.

Any time a team loses a huge game like this one, as a result of one disastrous call by an official on the field or in the booth, at least one of these ingenious analysts trots out the ingenious insight that if the losing team considered scoring more touchdowns that would’ve resulted in more points, and that would’ve increased the probability that they won the game. The losing team, they add, shouldn’t have put themselves in a position where a bad call could determine the outcome, and these analysts write these articles in a manner that casts blame on the losing team for failing to consider that. As ridiculous as these suggestions sound, their argument is correct and logical, but is it as logical as a statement that suggests that it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns a team scores if there are enough bad calls from officials and replay officials, made against them?