Proposed rule changes to helmet loss, scoring play review could help CFL long-term

Much of what goes on at the annual CFL Congress never makes its way into the public domain, but rule changes certainly do, and two proposed ones that emerged this week could have significant impacts on the game. Following the elaborate procedure in place to change the league's rules, the CFL rules committee has tabled two important proposals for the board of governors to consider. The first proposed change involves implementing an automatic video replay review of all scoring plays, which could have notable implications in games. The second recommended change may be even more significant in the long run, though; it proposes blowing the play dead immediately when the ballcarrier loses his helmet (a long-sought rule, and one the NFL implemented in 2010) and also preventing other players whose helmets have come off from participating in the play (and penalizing them if they do). Both moves look like good ones from this corner, and they could save the CFL significant headaches down the road.

First, lost helmets. This has come up plenty of times recently, especially in the early part of 2011 when helmets kept flying off at an incredible rate with no apparent cause or easy solution, and the CFL's policy has previously been that the play continues normally. That's incredibly dangerous to a ballcarrier who loses his helmet, as defenders have free reign to tee off on them and they have no helmet to protect them both from the initial impact and from the subsequent fall to the turf. As mentioned above, the NFL changed this in 2010, and although it occasionally leads to a big gain being nullified, the boost to player safety is well worth it from this corner. Concussions are one of the largest issues facing all of football, and allowing players to hit the helmetless is a recipe for further head injuries. Whatever can be done to prevent that is worthwhile, even if it occasionally takes away a spectacular play.

It's also nice to see the CFL going beyond the bare minimum here and just copying the NFL's rule. The provisions penalizing helmetless players other than the ballcarrier for joining the play don't exist in the NFL, but they make plenty of sense. There's just as much danger of injury to the tackler as to the man being hit on any given play, and a tackle without a helmet is an absolute recipe for disaster, especially considering the poor head-first form many players follow these days. Moreover, the stiff penalties involved may convince players to tighten their chinstraps further, and that could lead to less helmets being lost overall. This could interrupt the game here and there, but that's a small price to pay for avoiding incredibly dangerous situations.

The automatic replay review is along similar lines. Yes, if implemented, this will undoubtedly increase game times at least slightly (although the replay reviews can be done very quickly on non-controversial plays, and many of the controversial ones are already challenged). From this corner, that seems like a worthwhile trade, though; this will mean that crucial plays aren't nullified or allowed because coaches are saving challenges or have already used them, and it could also lead to further confirmation of some tricky plays that haven't necessarily frequently been challenged in the past (such as whether a field goal or extra point crossed inside the goalpost). In an age where television is such an important part of the game, fans at home can often easily see if a call is right or wrong, so why not ensure that replay information is used on all crucial plays? Much like the inconvenience of helmet-loss rules seems well worth it given the perils, a moderate game delay is a small price to pay to avoid a clearly blown touchdown call that makes the league look bad. Sometimes it's worth being careful rather than rushing, and both these roles follow that pattern. Here's hoping the board of governors endorses them later this spring.