Football Catching Rules
Catching is an essential skill found in any football game. This seemingly simple task has become a hotbed for controversy in the recent history of the game, though, and has more complicated rules than one might expect. So what exactly is a catch? What determines whether or not a catch is successful? Get ready to learn about the rules of catching in football.
Who Can Make a Catch?
Not any player can make a catch. In order to ensure the tactical structure of the game, the ball is only supposed to be thrown to certain offensive players.
Being an eligible receiver also means the player in question must be wearing a correct jersey number. Jersey numbers are used to identify players quickly because they are assigned by position. Per Rule 8, Section 1, Article 6, Paragraph (b) of the official NFL Rulebook, an ineligible receiver includes offensive players wearing any number from 50–79, unless they have notified the Referee of their eligibility status prior to the start of the play.
A receiver may also be labeled “ineligible” if they have gone out of bounds prior to receiving a pass. This is commonly known as “illegal touching,” and results in a loss-of-down penalty. This does not apply if the player is pushed out of bounds illegally prior to receiving the pass.
If a pass is tipped by a defensive player, any player is eligible to catch it.
The Process of a Catch
Understanding who is allowed to catch the ball is fairly simple and doesn’t come into play very often, but the act of catching a pass can be much more complex.
In order to successfully make a catch (or interception), the receiver must do the following:
- Secure the ball in their hands or arms
- Keep both feet in-bounds (only one foot is needed in college football)
- Make a “football move”, a movement that is common to the game, such as a tuck or extension of the ball, or evasion of an opponent.
The player also must control the ball throughout the entire process of the catch, including falling to the ground. If the ball comes loose or falls out at any point during this process, it is ruled an incomplete pass.
This last part of the rule has been the most divisive in recent years because players often fall to the ground while trying to maintain “control” of the ball. According to the current NFL Rulebook, movement of the ball does not necessarily result in loss of control (Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3). The vagueness of this wording means that differences of opinion certainly arise and can vary between different referees and fans.
If both a defensive and offensive player catch a pass at the exact same time, the catch is awarded to the offensive player. This rule does not apply to a pass that has been caught by one player before another gains joint control.
Any eligible player (offensive or defensive) who is well-positioned to catch the ball has a right to do so without contact from the opposing player. This illegal contact is known as pass interference, and a penalty may be called against the offensive or defensive player (although defensive pass interference is much more common).
Offensive pass interference leads to a 10-yard penalty from the previous spot of the ball.
Defensive pass interference results in the offense getting the ball at the spot of the foul in the National Football League, but is only a 15-yard penalty in college football.