Football: Completed Forward Pass

Today, my brother and I debated whether an overtime play involving Nebraska’s Kenny Bell actually was a touchdown.  (Nebraska beat Iowa in overtime on this play.)

Here’s the play from a couple of different angles:

The officials ruled a Nebraska touchdown, and the replay review confirmed the field ruling.  Ergo, Nebraska won.  (I argued briefly that Bell did not in fact catch the ball.  My brother finally convinced me that Bell caught the ball with two hands slightly higher than where the ball ended up right before the defender hit Bell and popped the ball loose.  Having the game and replay officials and my brother all agree persuaded me that Bell caught the winning touchdown.)

So what do the rules have to say about this?

NCAA Football 2013 and 2014 Rules and Intepretations Rule 7, Section 3, Article 6 (Pages 76-77) essentially says that a forward pass is complete when caught.  Not terribly complicated, it seems.  But is there more?

In this case, the answer is a firm “No”.  When Bell caught the pass, it was complete.  Duh.

In contrast, National Football League Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 says that a forward pass is complete when three events occur: 1) a receiver secures the pass in his hands or arms; 2) he touches both feet or a body part other than his hands inbounds; and 3) he maintains possession of the ball either long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game (e.g. warding off a defender).

Article 3 also contains Item 1 (aka “The Roy Williams Rule”), which discusses completed passes for players who are falling to the ground.  It states:

If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

The college rule obviously is much simpler but does not remove the discretion (and keen vision) officials need to make these bang-bang calls.

My brother now can tell his Iowa-fan friends why the pass was complete, along with a hearty “See you next year and Go Huskers”.

And you now know the basic standards for completed forward passes at both the college and professional levels.  You can read the rule hyperlinks for the more nuanced portions of the rules.  And believe me, the nuances exist.

Over and out.

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One Comment on “Football: Completed Forward Pass”

  1. […] Several weeks ago, I analyzed completed forward passes in both college and professional football.  You can read that post here. […]


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