CFL heading in right direction to get calls right while improving player safety
Stampeders' Glenn Love (middle) blocks Lions' Chris Rainey (left) during CFL Western Final action at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Nov. 20, 2016. (Leah hennel/Postmedia/Files)
Improve player safety, coaches’ challenges and the role of the eye-in-the-sky official, while at the same time cutting down on penalties and trying not to interrupt the flow of the game. This is the task at hand for the 12-person rules committee as it meets to kick off CFL Week in the Saskatchewan capital.
Not likely, but the league is trending in the right direction in all areas and vice-president of officiating Glen Johnson believes the rules committee can come up with more innovative ways to keep it going.
“It’s very much about game flow, it’s very much about fan experience,” Johnson said before Monday’s first rules committee session.
“We’re trying to balance all of those things, while still protecting the integrity of the game. We don’t want to make the game completely different but we understand that the flow and how things are experienced both in stadium and on broadcast, are so important.”
Here’s a look as the some of the topics that will be discussed before the committee takes a vote on recommendations for changes on Wednesday:
* The CFL reduced the number of flags thrown by its officials by 13% last year, which is a significant improvement, but it’s still not good enough.
“Reducing penalties is something we’ve been working on for a number of years now and we continue to realize that there are still too many penalties in the game,” Johnson said. “It’s a shared responsibility between coaches and players and officials and we keep working hard to try to figure out ways to get that number down.”
Committee members also will try to identify penalties they can remove from the rule book.
“We took out a certain kind of penalty last year that reduced the number of penalties by about 100,” Johnson said. “It was a procedure movement by the offensive linemen. We allowed them to be a little more fluid and only stationary just prior to the snap.”
Another idea is changing the standard by which certain calls — like illegal blocks on kick returns — are made.
“Possibly we’re going to make a certain type of play more lenient on the standard,” Johnson said. “We don’t want fans saying, every time there’s a big play, ‘Oh my goodness is there going to be a penalty.’ We want to get to a spot where you are enjoying that excitement and only on those rare occasions will there be a penalty.
* Player safety is always at or near the top of the list for the CFL and Johnson expects the committee to focus on actions related to blocking this week. In order to not increase the number of flags thrown — that would conflict with one of the other major points of discussion — one idea is to look at making certain kinds of penalties more punitive.
* The league was forced to make a rule change in mid-season last year because too many coaches’ challenge flags were being thrown. They made the decision to throw a challenge flag more punitive for coaches by putting a timeout at risk for every challenge, whereas, in the past, they only put a timeout at risk with their second challenge.
Until the change was made, coaches' challenges had risen to 2.2 per game from 1.26 and the new timeout rule helped bring that number back down to 1.6 per game. Of course, last year at this time the rules committee added seven new penalties that coaches could challenge, which certainly contributed to the rise in flags.
“We feel we’re still not in a spot that’s good enough,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at, ‘Should we challenge less things? Some of those penalties, should we take them out?’ We’re also looking at changing the process itself, so potentially, how many challenges coaches get or the actual process we use to do it. If we can make it faster does that make more sense? Have the number be the same but have the whole thing just take a shorter period of time.”
* The committee also will look at the way the league uses its video official, who works out of the command centre in Toronto and is connected by headset to the officials on the field.
Introduced last season, the “eye-in-the-sky” helped with “administrative” aspects of the game, like correcting spots, adjusting game clocks and, on rare occasions, telling on-field officials to pick up flags. That happened only 10 times all season.
The rules committee is looking at more ways for the video official to become involved and get things right, without affecting the flow of the game.
“Fix something that is obviously wrong, fix it in a hurry,” Johnson said. “Let’s do the right thing and just keep moving.”
The rules committee could recommend allowing the video official to call penalties, but only in a situation where the play is already stopped by another flag.
“We don’t want to start officiating the game from the command centre,” Johnson said. “But once a flag is already down, and we’ve already stopped the game, there’s some administration that’s going to happen and we want them to just think about getting the situation right.”
RULES COMMITTEE: THE MEMBERS
* Representative from each of the nine teams
* Representative from officials association
* Representative from the CFLPA
* Representative from the league head office
Recommendations will be presented on Wednesday to the competition committee for further discussion and implementation.