CFL’s bold move on replay will be watched closely
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Jun 25, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

CFL’s bold move on replay will be watched closely

Hamilton Spectator

The league's top ref calls it one of the most significant rule changes he's ever seen.

The coach of the local heroes calls it a step in the right direction.

The fans call it "about time."

This season, the Canadian Football League becomes the first football league to subject pass interference to video review. Coaches may challenge both penalty calls and calls that weren't made.

"It's such a big penalty," says Glen Johnson, the CFL's new vice-president of officiating. "It's the only penalty where we (take the ball) to the spot on the field where the penalty took place, and that can really have an impact on the game, especially near the end."

Passing plays have generally comprised about 64 per cent of CFL non-kicking plays, and "PI" has always been the penalty which draws the most public analysis and criticism. In recent years, there've been increasingly clearer definitions of what constitutes PI but the actual calls, or failures to call, are still fan and coach enragers.

Johnson said there were CFL people on both sides of the issue, with those against making pass interference a reviewable play thinking that a decision from the league's Toronto "war room" would only be adding another person's subjectivity to a call already oozing subjectivity.

But the rule's potential impact was demonstrated on the very first challenge of the pre-season, when a "no call" against a Winnipeg defender was overturned after Toronto coach Scott Milanovich challenged it. Instead of their drive stalling the Argos went on to score.

Tiger-Cats head coach and GM Kent Austin, a member of the CFL competition committee which proposed the change, says he totally supports the rule and predicted that most coaches will not challenge an actual pass interference call because the statistics show that more than 90 per cent of those calls are correct.

"But there are lots of calls that are missed," he said.

His prediction is supported by the limited pre-season forensics. All three challenges on PI were about penalties not called. The Toronto-Winnipeg play was the only challenge which was upheld and that decision was determined by an end-zone camera.

"No one on the field would have that angle," Johnson explains. "Two guys were on it, one inside and one outside, exactly as it calls for in the positioning book."

But the actual infraction was not visible from the lateral views.

The rules surrounding a pass interference challenge are the same as for other challenges except for this: The CFL will not review a pass interference ruling unless it's challenged by a coach. Other reviewable situations are subject to automatic review by the CFL during the final three minutes of the game.

One objection raised against PI review is that it would affect the pace of the game. But Johnson points out that the number of permitted challenges remains the same (two per team per game, unless both are successful, in which case a third is allowed).

And other less-publicized changes this year were designed to speed up the pace, including the referee no longer being required to delay the 20-second clock to give the defence time to set up.

"In the pre-season we saw an increase of about four or five plays per game," Johnson says, "although I don't know if that will hold up in the regular season."

The ability to challenge pass interference interpretations is a reaction to the general feeling that there are gaps on the field that a seven-person crew cannot always fill. In response, the NFL chose not to go to PI challenges but instead added an eighth official. That is not in the CFL's plans at the present.

"My expectation is that they will all be watching us with great interest," Johnson said. "In my 35 years of officiating, this is probably one of the top five rule changes. And a change for the better."

905-526-3268 | @miltonatthespec

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