NFL owners toughen helmet hit penalty, clarify catch rule


Miami (AFP)

NFL team owners voted Tuesday to make it illegal for players to lower their heads and initiate contact with the helmet and clarified the league's "catch" rule, better defining receptions.

The intentional lowering helmet hit ban, imposing a 15-yard penalty with the threat of ejection, was aimed at player safety and reducing concussions.

"It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent," the new rule says. "The player may be disqualified. Applies to any player anywhere on the field."

Rich McKay, chair of the league's competition committee, said NFL research determined that a large number of concussions happen when players lower their heads to make a hit.

NFL owners also eased what had become an area of officiating controversy in defining a catch.

In the annual owners meeting at Orlando, owners unanimously approved a new rule requiring only three parts to a completed catch -- control of the ball, two feet down or another body part grounded in bounds and the making of a "football move."

A "football move" was defined as either a third step, reaching for or extending the ball toward the line to gain or the ability to perform such an act.

It remains with on-field officials to judge whether a catch has been completed, subject to video review as warranted.

Gone is a requirement that a receiver maintain control of the ball throughout the process of going to the ground.

Owners also finalized a rule having teams begin play after a touchback from the 25-yard line and allowing NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron would have the authority to eject players during games for egregious non-football acts.