Late in the third quarter of Ohio State’s 29-23 loss to Clemson in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, Tigers wide receiver Justyn Ross caught a third-down pass away from his body and tried to fight out of a tackle while taking four steps with the ball securely in his hands.
The fighting failed, however, as OSU cornerback Jeffrey Okudah knocked the ball out of Ross’ hands, seemingly forcing a fumble.
The assumed fumble was picked up by Buckeye safety Jordan Fuller and run into the end zone for a lead-giving touchdown. The on-field officials immediately ruled the play a fumble and a touchdown, but the replay official wanted a better look.
The officials determined that upon review, “We had a lot of good looks on it. We put on fast motion and slow motion. The player did not complete the process of the catch, so, therefore, the pass was incomplete.
“After the video, instant replay in the stadium as well as back at the video center, they both looked at it slow and fast and they determined when he moved, the ball was becoming loose in his hands and he did not complete the process of the catch.”
Those officials were correct in that the ball was moving when Okudah was knocking it out of Ross’ hands, but since he never brought the ball in and was instead trying to break a tackle, they ruled that he never had possession.
Speaking of possession, here is what the NCAA rule book says.
Sec. 4, Article 1, a) The ball is in player possession when a player has the ball firmly in his grasp by holding or controlling it with hand(s) or arm(s) while contacting the ground inbounds.
Now, possession and a catch aren’t exactly the same thing, so we should also clarify what a catch is by rule.
Sec. 4, Article 3, a, 1-3) To catch a ball means that a player:
1. Secures firm control with the hand(s) or arm(s) of a live ball in flight before the ball touches the ground, and
2. Touches the ground in bounds with any part of his body, and then
3. Maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game, i.e., long enough to pitch or hand the ball, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.
Ken Williamson, who was the referee from the Fiesta Bowl who spoke to a pool reporter after the game (and just so you know, 100% of the time a referee has to answer questions from the pool reporter it means that they are one of the main stories of the game) said that Ross didn’t complete the process of the catch.
What people keep referring to is that Ross didn’t make a football move.
The term “football move” is not found in the NCAA rulebook however. What the qualification actually is “perform an act common to the game.”
You know, like warding off an opponent from getting to the football.
Ross was literally doing one of the things that is in the rule book to constitute a completed catch.
The irony is that if Ross had been in the end zone, they likely would have ruled it a completion and a touchdown because the rules are different there for some reason.
From Rule 7, ARTICLE 6. Any forward pass is complete when caught by a player of the passing team who is inbounds, and the ball continues in play unless completed in the opponent’s end zone or the pass has been caught simultaneously by opposing players.
And if you want a visual representation of what this rule looks like, we can stay in the greater Phoenix area for last week’s Cheez-It Bowl.
And this brings us to America’s worst game show — CATCH, NOT A CATCH!
This is ruled a catch.
This is ruled not a catch.
Ross had much more security on the football than Washington State’s Max Borghi did, but because it happened in the end zone, the play was ruled dead as soon as the feet were down and the ball was secured.
And now you know what a catch is.
Of course, until the replay officials know what a catch is, nothing really matters.