CFL approves rule changes for field goals, timeouts, but should keep thinking about safety

The CFL's rulebook is evolving rather than static, and it underwent some further changes Wednesday when the league's board of governors approved the two changes proposed by the rules committee: allowing video review on field goals/single-point conversions and allowing coaches to use both of their timeouts in the same half. Both changes seem reasonable: the CFL's seen a few questionable rulings on field goals and conversions over the last few years, so this should help reduce those, and removing the rule that allowed only one timeout per half should give coaches more strategy options. However, these are reasonably small-scale changes compared to some that were originally discussed. That's fine, but the CFL should be willing to pursue aggressive change again through the rules committee next year.

For now, these are reasonable changes, and they should make the game better. Expanded video review has worked very well for the league in most other areas, which makes sense; there's often a better view of a particular play available through different camera angles or slow-motion playback, and there's no reason not to use that information when it's out there. We've occasionally seen field goals that looked good on first glance and were called good by the on-field officials, but later looked more questionable on video; the inability to have those reviewed may well have swung some games. This change is a step in favour of accurate calls, and that's always a good thing. Similarly, reducing the timeout restrictions seems reasonable; it should put extra emphasis on when to use a timeout (although coaches are still only allowed one within the final three minutes of the second half), and adding to the game's strategy seems positive.

The most notable proposed change this year never even made it to this step, though. That would be the plan to reduce cut blocks, which are already illegal on special-teams plays and downfield passes; the idea was to make cut blocks illegal outside of the tackle box (and adjacent players) on running plays as well. That change was tabled at the rules committee level, though, and never advanced to the board of governors. Sure, the rule was far from perfect, and there wasn't a great explanation for why the league wanted to take out cut blocks outside the tackle box but permit them inside it (the exact opposite approach to the NFL), so perhaps it makes sense to wait and see how things go with the NFL's new cut-block rule before trying to expand the CFL one.

Safety issues are still a vital concern for the CFL's future, though, and reducing the number of cut blocks is a key step there. Possible safety-based rule changes go beyond that, too; the league should also be keeping a very close watch on how the NFL's rule prohibiting running backs from leading with their helmets works out. The changes the CFL eventually approved this year are fine, but they're not dramatic and they're not terribly controversial; they also don't really do anything to improve player safety. Just because a safety-focused change didn't make it through this year doesn't mean the league should abandon efforts on that front. The CFL considers a significant number of potential changes every year (director of officiating Tom Higgins estimated in 2011 that they start with 50 or 60 annually, his department winnows them down to 15 to 25, talks those through with the rules committee, and then the committee fully considers eight to 10), so it's likely some safety-based ideas will come up again, especially given the NFL's moves on that front. When they do, the league should again give them full consideration. Small changes are fine, but big changes shouldn't be forgotten about either.