On the Pass Interference Rule, Post-ULM

So, after hearing them talk about the rule, I decided to go and look at it for myself. Here's the NCAA Rule on Pass Interference. It's from the 2011-2012 version of the rules, but the 2012-2013 version has not changed, from what I can find.

Rule 7 Section 3 Article 8.c.

Defensive Pass Interference is contact beyond the neutral zone by a Team B player whose intent to impede an eligible opponent is obvious and it could prevent the opponent the opportunity of receiving a catchable forward pass. When in question, a legal forward pass is catchable. Defensive pass interference occurs only after a legal forward pass is thrown. It is not defensive pass interference (A.R. 7-3-8-III, VII, VIII, XI, and XII):

1. ...[unimportant for our discussion here]

2. When two or more eligible players are making a simultaneous and bona fide attempt to reach, catch, or bat the pass. Eligible players of either team have equal rights to the ball (A.R. 7-3-8-IX).

3. ...

4. ...

So, when looking at the rule, it appears that Rod Gilmore is technically correct. There were two issues that he brought up: The "obvious intent to impede" and two players making a simultaneous attempt to reach/catch the pass. From the way this rule is worded officials have to judge a player's intent, so it's a wonder there are any pass interference penalties called at all. Let's leave that aside and talk about the second issue.

This is where the lawyer in me starts coming out, thinking about the definition interpretation of words and phrases. I won't go too much into it, but I wonder how you define "simultaneous" and "bona fide attempt." When does a bona fide attempt to catch the ball begin? When a "legal forward pass" is thrown, a wide receiver who is running his route is already making a bona fide attempt, isn't he? What qualifies as "simultaneous?" Is simultaneous meant only in the moments that the ball arrives at its intended target (or that general area), or is it a larger time frame than that? The inclusion of the word "reach" would seem to indicate that it could be a broader scope of time.

While the point that Gilmore was making remains, I still think that the defenders weren't simultaneous in their attempts to reach/catch/bat the pass. Just because that caveat subsection exists doesn't mean that the rule has been called that way consistently over the course of NCAA football. While I haven't gone back and reviewed the PI non-calls (I may do that and update this post), I tend to think that the defenders were not simultaneous in their attempts to make the catch, and thus the call should have been PI.


UPDATE: I went back and watched the pass interference non-calls and the analysis following. Here's the commentary transcribed.

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3rd Quarter, 2nd and goal, play starts at 2:25 remaining.

Blackburn: Rob’Donovan Lewis knocks Terrance Williams off his route.

Gilmore: Yes. But he was going for the ball, and the pass interference rule requires two things. It requires contact and it also requires… not… attempting to play the ball. He’s going for the ball completely and he has the right to do that. Good call, good non-call.

Here he’s absolutely incorrect. The rule doesn’t require “not attempting to play the ball.” The rule requires an intent to impede. If you have no intent to impede, and you’re going for the ball, then it’s not PI. But, if you have an intent to impede, then it’s irrelevant if you’re going for the ball. The exception states that eligible players of either team have equal rights to the ball, but it does not state that eligible players have equal rights to the same space when attempting to catch the ball. Furthermore, the exception doesn’t trump the rule itself. Regardless of whether you’re going for the ball, if you have intent to impede the receiver, to deprive him of the space to catch the ball, then it’s pass interference. Bad analysis on the play.

Next Situation:

4th Quarter, 1st and 10 from the ULM 47, play starts at 9:21 remaining. Again, Rob’Donovan Lewis interferes with Terrance Williams, this time by wrapping an arm around Williams’ back, reaching forward and batting down the ball. Flag thrown, waved off after officials huddle up.

Gilmore: Now that’s a good job. They got together and talked about it. The guy with the better angle, he’s back to the left, and this is what we talked—we talked to the officials before the game about this play. When you make contact with your back hand, but you’re going for the ball, that should not be pass interference, and they got the call right.

First, I’m not sure I buy that he had the conversation with the ref about this exact situation. Second, according to the rule, this is, again, the wrong call. Regardless of whether you’re going to bat the ball, if you have intent to impede the receiver, you’ve committed pass interference. We’ve seen it called the opposite way a thousand times. The hand around the back makes it pass interference. If there was contact between the two without the hand around the back, and the ball was batted down, THAT wouldn’t be pass interference. So, again, bad analysis of the non-call.

I’m pretty sure that was it for the pass interference calls. While I can understand how he came to his conclusions about how the rule works, his analysis ends up being way off base.

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