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By Rule, it was an Incompletion: ECU win over Navy has no Asterisk

Hell of a try: Matt Aiken stretches for the ball (Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE)

When Navy wide receiver Matt Aiken nearly came down with what might have been a game-winner for the Midshipmen with less than a minute left in Saturday’s game, instant replay was invoked and the result was an incomplete pass, ultimately making Navy the loser in the game. The linked article infers the call was arbitrary and the rule not equally applied in two separate games on Saturday.

At Navy, the officials huddled and noted that he NCAA Rules indicate that it was not a catch.

For this Pirate fan, it certainly looked like a catch and my understanding of the rules had always defaulted to the “ground can’t cause a fumble” thinking. But, the rules are focused on “possession” of the football and securing it through contact with the ground when making a catch while airborne certainly is a decisive factor, at least according to the rule book (specifically, Section 4, Article 1 (a) or page 28 for short). The rule states that a player “gains possession” when he secures the ball firmly by holding or controlling it while contacting the ground inbounds. Unfortunately for Navy, Aiken’s opportunity to establish possession – finish the catch – was when he contacted the ground, whereupon he could not firmly secure the ball. Incomplete pass.

Understandably, some Navy fans feel like they were jobbed a bit and honestly, I thought it was a catch given my lack of understanding the rule. And, of course, others are using it to try and make a case to get the rule changed – which I would probably be in favor of, too. But for now, the right call was made and ECU won the game without footnote.

Great game and big, quality win nonetheless.

4 comments on “By Rule, it was an Incompletion: ECU win over Navy has no Asterisk

  1. I understand their gripe… looked like a catch to me also… what bothered me the most was the explanation given by the official that the receiver didn’t have control of the ball BEFORE it hit the ground… what i hear you saying is the officials didn’t base the call on the correct interpretation of the rule. had they have said that the receiver didn’t MAINTAIN possession upon contact with the ground, i would have said, “ok, good try… but didn’t hang on to it..” But they didn’t say that… they said he didn’t have control before it hit the ground, which to me was an incorrect assessment of the play… anywayz, i’m glad we won, but want to win fairly…

    • That is an important distinction you raise and honestly, I need to re-watch the game for what was said as I probably have morphed what the officials said on the field and what the commentators noted in the broadcast. Either way, I don’t feel like we got a gift. I am in favor of changing that rule, though, since we pass a zillion times a game and it will likely come up with our offense.

  2. Very reminiscent of the Calvin Johnson catch last year in the NFL that looked like a catch, but he didn’t control it all the way to the ground. Thanks for posting this and clarifying things.

  3. The only place I see it spoken of in the rules is:
    Incomplete Pass
    ARTICLE 7. a. Any forward pass is incomplete if the ball is out of bounds by
    rule or if it touches the ground when not firmly controlled by a player.
    So, that would mean they ruled he did not have control of it when it touched the ground as I mentioned before…..ummmmm…guess that is subjective, but looked like he had control of it to me… the ground knocked it out of his control…

    i’ll take the win, but not convinced we got it fair and square… we’ve lost a few that way, so i’ll take it and be happy…

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