Activities Sports & Athletics What Is the Definition of a Reception in NFL Football? Share PINTEREST Email Print Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images Sports & Athletics Football Basics Playing & Coaching Best of Football Plays & Formations College Football Baseball Basketball Bicycling Billiards Bodybuilding Bowling Boxing Car Racing Cheerleading Cricket Extreme Sports Golf Gymnastics Ice Hockey Martial Arts Professional Wrestling Skateboarding Skating Paintball Soccer Swimming & Diving Table Tennis Tennis Track & Field Volleyball Other Activities Learn More By James Alder James Alder is an expert on the game of American football, blogs for The New York Times, and appears on radio shows. our editorial process James Alder Updated March 07, 2019 This is the official rule on receptions in the NFL: "If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete." Basically what that means is simple. If a player goes to the ground while making a catch, he must control the ball all the way through until his momentum from the fall ends. If at any point before his momentum stops he loses control of the ball, and it touches the ground, the pass is incomplete. Rule Change However, the NFL changed the rules regarding what reception is before the 2015 season. The new rule was intended to clarify the old rule, but instead, it has just caused more confusion. The new rule states: "In order to complete a catch, a receiver must clearly become a runner. He does that by gaining control of the ball, touching both feet down and then, after the second foot is down, having the ball long enough to clearly become a runner, which is defined as the ability to ward off or protect himself from impending contact. "If, before becoming a runner, a receiver falls to the ground in an attempt to make a catch, he must maintain control of the ball after contacting the ground. If he loses control of the ball after contacting the ground and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. "Reaching the ball out before becoming a runner will not trump the requirement to hold onto the ball when you land. When you are attempting to complete a catch, you must put the ball away or protect the ball so it does not come loose." More Confusion This has not helped NFL officials much when it comes to determining whether a forward pass results in an official reception or not. There have been many instances since the new rule took effect that has caused controversy. The confusion is causing such a stir, for one reason, because the league is more pass-happy than ever. There were 18,298 forward passes thrown in 2016, more than in any other year since they began playing pro football. There were 11,527 receptions, also a record. There were 824 touchdown catches, yet another record. So, what determines whether a catch is legal, is of enormous importance. "I am just as lost as any fan or any player, Cleveland receiver Andre Hawkins told SI.com earlier this year. "There is no real definition. It just doesn't make sense. You can't quantify it."