55 Yard Line

CFL Board of Governors approves rule changes, which should aid safety and accuracy

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Henry Burris tries to evade Kenny Mainor after losing his helmet in a July game.

The CFL's rule-changing process can take frustratingly long at times, but it does tend to produce some good results in the end. That's the case with Wednesday's news that the league's board of governors has unanimously approved two proposed rule changes tabled by the rules committee back in March. The changes will see plays blown dead immediately when a ballcarrier loses his helmet (and penalties for other players who get involved in a play after losing their helmet), and every scoring play will now be subject to automatic video review. These are significant changes that should boost the league's record on player safety and ensure that more correct calls are made, and while they may lead to a few plays being nullified and some minor delays in games, those are small prices to pay.

The helmet-loss rule is the most crucial change here, and it's one that was direly needed. The CFL saw an epidemic of players' helmets flying off during the early part of last year, and that led to several situations (including the Henry Burris run seen above and the Weston Dressler play described here) where players continued with the ball after losing their helmets. Burris eventually slid and wasn't tackled, but Dressler was hit and could have been seriously injured. At the time, a similar incident happened in a Dallas Cowboys-San Diego Chargers' NFL clash, but that league had already changed its own rules to blow plays dead when the ballcarrier loses his helmet. The CFL has finally followed suit, and they've gone one step better by including penalties for non-ballcarriers; tackling can be just as dangerous to the tackler as the tacklee, so if a linebacker or defensive back loses his helmet, it makes sense to include penalties to keep them from participating in the play.

Player safety may be the most crucial issue of the next couple of decades in football, given all that we're learning about the long-term effects of concussions and the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). With that in mind, leagues have to do everything possible to try and keep their players safe. The CFL's made a good start on that front with their involvement in setting nationwide concussion standards. These new helmet rules will help further, and they should also aid in alleviating the epidemic of helmets popping off; if players have an extra incentive to keep their helmets on, maybe they'll tighten the chinstraps more or work harder to find other solutions that will keep their protective gear on their head.

The scoring-play review change is also an important one, and one that should go a long way towards improving the CFL product as a whole. Video replay is a tremendously useful tool and one that often helps officials to get the call right. Automatically reviewing every scoring play means that coaches won't have to use challenges on those and can instead appeal for a review on controversial plays in the middle of the field more often, and that should lead to more correct calls overall. The time delay shouldn't dramatically increase, either; most scoring plays will only require a quick glance, and the controversial ones likely would have been challenged anyway. There might be a minor increase in the length of games, but it doesn't seem likely to be all that substantial, and getting calls right is well worth the extra time. With these rule changes, the CFL is prioritizing safety and accuracy, and those are two desirable goals.

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