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CFL rules committee endorses historic move to make PI reviewable; now, it’s up to the board

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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CFL VP-officiating (and former ref) Glen Johnson helped propose reviewing PI calls.

The CFL is one step closer to making history, as the league's rules committee endorsed the idea of making pass interference a challengeable and reviewable call at a meeting Thursday. Now, the rule change would only need to be approved by the league's board of governors in order to go into effect. If the new rule gets board approval, the CFL will be the first football league to allow pass interference calls (or non-calls) to be challenged by coaches undergo video review. That's an important step, and it's one that should lead to more officiating consistency and less incorrect calls. Here are the details, from the league's website:

“Pass interference is one of the toughest calls to make,” said Glen Johnson, the CFL’s Vice-President of Officiating who spent 24 years as an on field official. “This gives us a second opportunity to get it right on a penalty that can have a great impact on a game.”

Under the proposal, a team would be able use any of its two (three if first two are successful) Coaches' Challenges to challenge a called or potential pass interference foul up to the final three minutes of a game. In the final three minutes of a game, and overtime, a team could only challenge such a call or non-call one time, and only if it still has an unused challenge and a timeout remaining.

A coach must challenge to trigger a video review of a pass interference call or a potential pass interference call. They will not be subject to automatic review.

An unsuccessful challenge of a potential pass interference foul in the final three minutes will result in the loss of a time out. An unsuccessful challenge of an actual pass interference call in the final minutes will not result in the loss of a time out.

There's been plenty of public opposition to this raised since the proposal was floated this week, so it's interesting that the rules committee went ahead anyway. Of course, there are sound counterarguments to many of the points that have been made against using replay for pass interference. Some have said this will detract from the human element of the game, but it's hard to see that; the command centre officials who would make the final ruling in case of a challenged call are still human, they're just better-informed than the on-field officials thanks to their ability to see the play in slow motion and from multiple angles. Moreover, the on-field calls will still matter; calls are upheld if there isn't conclusive evidence to overturn them, and with a maximum of three challenges per team per game, the vast majority of PI calls or non-calls won't be challenged. (That also speaks to the concerns some have raised about this delaying the game; while pass interference reviews will take a little time thanks to the difficulty of the call, there's still the same maximum number of challenges and plenty of existing reviews take a while, so it's hard to see games getting much longer.)

Ultimately, though, what happens here will be up to the league's board of governors. They've often been supportive of the rules committee's recommendations, but that may be more difficult in the case of a controversial rule like this that has substantial opposition from traditionalists. The move to make replay reviewable seems like a strong idea from this corner, though, and one that should lead to less games being won or lost on bad calls or non-calls; it should also provide a much clearer standard of what is and isn't pass interference, and finally make it so that the officials have as much information as viewers at home. If it does get implemented, you can bet other leagues will be watching, and it may not be long before this CFL innovation spreads.

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