We must be really starving for football, because we are resorting to a call made in the Czech League of American Football. Czech Bowl XXIII was held on Saturday, and it ended in spectacularly controversial fashion.
The Prague Black Panthers are the dominant team of the Czech League, having played in 22 of the 23 Czech Bowls and entering the game with a fourpeat of the title. On the final play of the game, they held a 10-9 lead over crosstown rival, the Prague Lions. Lions quarterback Matt Silva heaved a 50-yard Hail Mary, which was intercepted by Black Panthers defender Jan Dundáček at about the 7-yard line. Dundáček ambled his way into the end zone, where the ball was declared dead.
Lions receivers immediately were lobbying for a safety, but back judge Radek Janhuba ruled that the ball reverts back to the spot of the interception. How do you rule on this play? (Click here if the video below does not work.)
Analysis of the interception call
When the ball is ruled dead in the end zone (without the complication of a foul), there are three possible rulings: touchdown, safety, or a touchback. In the case of a loose-ball turnover at the goal line, where a player unavoidably carries the ball into the end zone on the recovery, there is a momentum exception. Since the touchback rewards the defense too much, and a safety rewards the offense with points, the momentum exception gives the defense the ball at the spot where the second foot of the defender came down upon securing possession. If this is at the 4-yard line, the defense gets the ball at the 4; if it is inside the 1-yard line, the ball defaults to the 1-yard line.
However, the momentum exception is granted when the original momentum carries the recovering player into the end zone. The exception, as worded in Rule 11-5-1(b)(exception 2) is as follows:
It is not a safety: … if a defensive player, in the field of play, intercepts a pass or catches or recovers a fumble, backward pass, scrimmage kick, free kick, or fair catch kick, and his original momentum carries him into his end zone where the ball is declared dead in his team’s possession. The ball belongs to the defensive team at the spot where the player’s foot or other body part touched the ground to establish possession.
By the NFL rules, when Dundáček intercepts the ball at the 7, he can be granted an exception. The NFL rules originally expressed a 5-yard grace area for the momentum exception, meaning an exception would not be granted at the 6. That 5-yard rule was removed from the NFL rulebook in 1986, so the exception is granted on any original momentum that carries the intercepting player into the end zone.
Dundáček, however, loses the exception when he begins to turn laterally at about the 2-yard line. At this point, he’s not under an uncontrolled stride towards the end zone, and the original part of original momentum is lost. If the turn occurs when the defender in the end zone, the momentum exception is still valid, as long as he crosses the goal line under original momentum.
In this case, Dundáček would have been ruled to commit a safety under the NFL rules, which would have flipped the Lions 1-point loss to a 1-point win. The IFAF rules have the 5-yard provision that is no longer in the NFL rulebook. Thus, the safety is also granted under those rules. IFAF Rule 8-5-1(a), with my emphasis:
[Momentum] exception: It is not a safety if a player between his five-yard line and his goal line:
(a) intercepts a pass or fumble; or recovers an opponent’s fumble or backward pass; or catches or recovers an opponent’s kick; and
(b) his original momentum carries him into his own end zone; and
(c) the ball remains behind his goal line and is declared dead in his team’s possession there. This includes a fumble that goes from the end zone into the field of play and out of bounds (Rule 7-2-4-b-1).
If conditions (a)-(c) are satisfied above, the ball belongs to this player’s team at the spot where he gained possession.
An officiating trainer has already resigned over the incident, based on a (very) rough translation by Google of a Czech Association statement:
I accept responsibility for this [ruling], for selecting and training for [officials] and therefore resign from the post of chairman of the [officiating] commission. I wish my successor good luck and hope that he can raise the level of [officials] in our country. I wish him [luck] recruiting quality candidates.
The back judge, reportedly, has also resigned. And, the play has already started generating its own memes: