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Roger Goodell forms new committee to address NFL’s catch rule, instructs competition committee to ensure officiating improves

Dez Bryant’s controversial non-catch during last season’s NFC playoffs. (Andrew Weber — USA TODAY Sports)

IRVING, Tex. — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday he has asked a group of current and former general managers, former players and former officials to make recommendations to the league’s competition committee about changes to the sport’s catch rule.

Goodell also said at the conclusion of a one-day owners’ meeting, focused largely on the NFL’s bid to return to the vacant Los Angeles market, that he has instructed the competition committee to explore every possible means to improve officiating.

It has been a season in which officiating controversies and confusion over what is and what is not a legal catch have been major story lines.

[Officials got it right but NFL got it wrong again on Tyler Eifert non-catch call]

[Golden Tate’s ‘catch’ adds to confusion]

[Giants’ magic against Patriots overpowered by another mysterious force: NFL’s catch rule]

The competition committee modified the catch rule last offseason but did not abandon it and replace it with a new rule. Now Goodell is seeking input from others.

[Competition committee opts to tweak catch rule instead of replace it]

“A couple weeks ago I asked several football personnel including former GMs, our current GMs, current individuals, former players, former officials to come together and try to see if we can study this and come up with some proposals for the competition committee to consider,” Goodell said. “There are a lot of factors to consider in that: how it’s officiated, how it’s played, how it’s coached, how fans react to it.

“We want clarity to that. We want to find a better solution if it’s out there. And so that committee will come back and it will report to the competition committee. The competition committee will then, of course, report to the membership if there’s a solution or a recommendation.”

The owners could consider possible changes at the annual league meeting next spring.

Goodell said there also could be changes to the way game officials are trained and the manner in which officiating crews are assembled.

“When we talk about integrity of the game, that’s one thing that truly affects the integrity of the game,” Goodell said. “We strive for perfection. We strive for consistency. We’re not gonna always get that. But we’re always going to continue to try to get that. And I mentioned to the ownership today that our commitment is to do everything reasonable to make sure that we improve officiating. . . . I’m asking the competition committee to look at various aspects of our officiating to see what we can do to improve on it.”

Goodell said the rule book could be streamlined.

“That includes clarifications of rules,” Goodell said. “It includes simplifying where we can on rules, the way we train officials, the way we put crews together, which I’ve mentioned before. I would tell you that no stone will be left unturned with respect to how we continue to improve officiating…. Are there ways in which we can use technology effectively in our game? Technology is changing. It’s giving us an opportunity to see things we never saw before. And we need to make sure our officials have access to that.”

[NFL admits officiating mistake that cost the Lions a late chance to win at Seattle]

[Clock error does not prevent Steelers from winning in San Diego]

[Inadvertent whistle can’t stop Patriots]

Officials do “an extraordinary job,” Goodell said.

“We all recognize that officials are going to make mistakes,” Goodell said. “What we need to do is try to avoid those mistakes as much as possible, train them differently, improve the quality of the officiating and use technology to help them when a mistake does occur.”

Goodell said the league will continue to push to the NFL Referees Association in negotiations to make some officials full-time NFL employees. But that is only part of the solution, Goodell said.

“It’s an issue we address every year,” he said. “We work hard on making sure our officials perform at the highest possible level. Coaches [and] players understand they make mistakes. That happens. I think the reaction I’ve seen from the players and coaches this year—and I speak to them on a regular basis—has been very professional. . . . We want to make sure we get as close to perfection, if not perfection, as we can. So our job is to put better officials on the field and do a better job. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”