NFL Rules, Officiating Beyond a Joke

Any sane, level headed sports fan who watched NFL games this past weekend had to think “Are they making this stuff up as they go along?”

Two specific plays and the rulings that followed are prime examples of the FACT that the NFL is in shambles as far as credibility and consistency where the creation and execution of rules are all concerned.

Millions of people saw what has to be perhaps the worst example ever of an obvious on-field intentional “mistake” by an official that directly led to one team’s ultimate win. In last night’s Dallas-Raiders game, fans across the nation watched in disbelief as referee Gene

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Steratore took out a folded piece of paper or card and inserted it in-between the nose of the football and the down marker to determine if the ball had or had not reached that magical spot far enough from the previous line of scrimmage to qualify as a first down.

Bear in mind that at this point in the game, a tie game with five minutes to play, Dallas had a fourth-and-one on their own 39 yard line, and chose to run a play rather than to punt the ball. A failed effort on that fourth down would have given the Raiders the ball back within 40 yards of the Dallas goal line, and almost in their own field goal range. That play was a keeper by quarterback Dak Prescott, and the result was a gain to be measured in feet and inches and not in yards.

The spot at which the ball in the hand’s of Prescott was downed was near the 40 yard line, but clearly neither successful or unsuccessful in reaching the spot needed for a first down and for the Cowboys’ drive to continue. That is when sports history was made.

Clearly, Steratore’s intent was to determine if there was space between the nose of the football and the down marker. And as the folded piece of paper was inserted for millions of viewers to see, the OBVIOUS result was space between the ball and marker, meaning a FAILED fourth-down run and that the ball would be turned over to the Raiders. But that is NOT what happened. Steratore removed the paper from its nest between ball and maker and announced that the eyes of millions of fans were deceived and that no, there was no

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room between ball and marker, that the ball had met the marker and that Dallas had moved the ball that needed yard for a first down.


Dallas kept the ball, proceeded down field, and kicked a game-winning field goal.

What fans saw was outrageous. Clearly, obviously, and actually creatively, Steratore used the paper to determine if there was space between ball and marker, which if found, could mean only one thing, that the run was short of the first down spot, turning the ball over to the Raiders. But that is not what fans and players and coaches and other officials saw. No, what they all saw was Steratore tell all the world that their eyes lied, that there was NO space between ball and marker.

Despite his creativity, there now needs to be the following result: Steratore needs to be fired. Period.

If the NFL were a legitimate organization that cared at all about fairness and integrity, they would also do the following: Order that the result of the game be voided, and that the game, with significant playoff ramifications, be resumed with the Raiders having the ball and their own first down just short of the 40 yard line.

They would take these actions IF the NFL were a legitimate organization that cared at all about fairness and integrity, which of course it isn’t and doesn’t.

And then there are the ridiculous rules regarding just what is and what is not a reception. In game after game, fans see a player catch a pass, take a few steps, get knocked to or fall to the ground, with the ground then causing the ball to wobble, bobble and sometimes go free. In clear conflict with the overriding traditional rule that the ground cannot cause a fumble, in this type of play, that is now generally ruled to be not a catch but rather an incomplete pass. Another Huh?

This “Go to the Ground” rule is absolutely absurd. Yea, the guy catches the ball, falls and loses it, it’s not a catch. But when he takes two, three, four steps or more, stretches out on the ground, and then the ball wobbles and bobbles in his hand, how can that not be a catch?

In the New England-Pittsburgh game, ending a few few hours before the Dallas-Raiders fourth-down ruling, this “Rule” determined its own outcome, again in a game with meaningful playoff significance. With 28 second remaining and the Steelers down 27-24, on a first down play at the Patriots ten yard line, Ben Roethlisberger thew a pass to Jesse James that he caught at around the three yard line, took a couple of steps forward, and his arms, hands and the ball crossed the plane of the goal line. But then, with his knee on the ground, the ball moved in his hands, and based on this after-the-fact occurrence, after the catch, after steps were taken, after the ball crossed the plane of the goal line, after on-field

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officials ruled it a catch and a seemingly game-winning touchdown, replay officials said naw, he did not maintain control “To the Ground” and it was NOT a catch, not a touchdown. Not nothing. Moments later, Roethlisberger was intercepted, ending the game with a Patriots’ victory.

When is a catch not a catch? When it happens in an NFL game.

How many steps does a player need to take before a catch is not a catch?

Can they be measured with a folded up piece of paper?

Years into the use of instant replay and challenges to on-field rulings, it is widely evident that across virtually all major sports leagues, there are rules that scream out for change. Most evident is how the NBA uses its replay challenges. There was a game a couple of years ago, and no I do not remember who the teams or players were, but I’m pretty sure it was a playoff game or other game with significance. There was a play where a ball went out of bounds and replay was used to determine which player from which team last touched the ball to determine possession. Well, the replay showed two distinct things. One was the player who last touched the ball and the other was that the ball went off his hands because he was clearly fouled by the player from the other team. But, NBA rules PROHIBITED the official from calling the foul because it had not been called prior to the replay being viewed. Thus, the wrong team got the ball despite clear evidence as to what had actually happened.

Replay reviews are essential to fairness and all major sports have to use this vital tool to ensure that the right call is made every time. But combine modern technology with overriding human stupidity, arrogance, and intentional prejudices as are all replete throughout much of sports, particularly in both the NFL and the NBA, and what you have is a vehicle to perpetuate and reinforce bad rules and incompetent officials.

Wise up and try to get it right.

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