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Competition Committee studying targeting, QB protections, catch process, and ‘non-football illegal acts’ for potential rule changes

The Competition Committee has already begun reviewing certain plays of note from the 2017 NFL season in preparation for the owners’ meeting.

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Three weeks fresh off Super Bowl LII, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, the eight-man Competition Committee, and commissioner Roger Goodell have already begun reviewing certain plays of note from the 2017 NFL season in preparation for the owners’ meeting in March, where rules changes and points of emphasis come to light for the upcoming year. Riveron, along with executive vice president of operations Troy Vincent, have released information on some of the types of plays that have gone to review this week.

 

One area that has been looked at is targeting of a defenseless player. This was a point of emphasis last offseason. Nonetheless, instances of targeting defenseless players in the head or neck area was a common occurrence this past year, notably taking place during the Monday night contest that wrapped up Week 13, which resulted in a suspension for one player and a hefty fine for another. The illegal hits that have taken place this season may lead to a rule change where targeting is an disqualifying foul, similar to college football. This was rumored in December following the same Week 13 game in Cincinnati. A rule change of this nature would eject players for an illegal helmet hit on a defenseless receiver, and, if adapted entirely from the NCAA, these plays would be subject to automatic replay review to determine if the hit was indeed an instance of targeting, or incidental contact.

While on the topic of ejections, suspensions and disqualifications resulting from in-game acts have also been discussed. Both Riveron and Vincent are using the term “non-football action” to describe these instances. In the 2017 season, officials ejected 20 players for fighting, committing a flagrant personal foul or for contact against an official. Three of these 20 ejections resulted in one-game suspensions, while many other suspensions were handed down for fouls in which players were not ejected. The Competition Committee is looking into ways to maintain the standard of professionalism for all players and coaches and hopes to reduce this number in 2018.

Player ejections in the 2017 season

No stranger to the annual points of emphasis is protection of a sliding quarterback. A quarterback, or any runner, who slides feet first cannot receive any forcible contact from a defender and must be treated as if they were down by contact. The key here is that if a runner starts his slide under imminent threat of contact, a defender is not prohibited from making forcible contact, as long as it is below the head or neck area. Most of the time, it is a judgment call to determine whether or not the contact was imminent when the slide took place, but when it is close, it tends to be called for unnecessary roughness.

Fumbles through the end zone have been discussed. A few major instances of controversial rulings changed touchdowns to touchbacks, which left some fans scratching their heads. However, these plays were ruled correctly, and the fact that Riveron stated that they have been talked about at these meetings may just be to address how the plays were ruled this past season. There really isn’t much anticipation of any rule being changed in regards to fumbling forward into and out of the end zone.

Most notably, the question that many football fans have nowadays: what is a catch? This team has reviewed the aspects of possession and control, the element of time for when a receiver becomes a runner and the infamous, now well-known term, “surviving the ground.” The catch rule is expected to be rewritten with more clarity, and may even be tweaked following a season filled with controversial catches, including two from Super Bowl LII. Many of these catch calls came when replay was a factor, this being the first year of centralized replay. This debate will likely see most of the attention at these and future meetings, in order to clean up the uncertainty among fans and the prevalent inconsistency in some replay decisions.

Videos were posted to Riveron’s new Twitter account.

 

Cam Filipe is a forensic scientist and has been involved in football officiating for 12 years. Cam is in his fourth season as a high school football official. This is his ninth season covering NFL officiating for Football Zebras.

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