Rules committee wants to add a video official to change obvious errors

Former referee Glen Johnson, now the CFL's senior vice-president of football, says the joint officiating program with the NFL will benefit the CFL and its officials. (CFL/K. Rodriguez.)

The CFL has made major rule changes over the last two years, making pass interference reviewable in 2014 and dramatically altering converts and the play clock in 2015, and now they may be set for some more. The league's Rules Committee proposed a package of significant changes Thursday,including an extra video official in the league command centre during games to catch and fix obvious errors that aren't challengeable, an expansion of which plays are reviewable, and an expansion of what's defined as a dangerous and illegal peel-back block. These proposals will still be reviewed by the league's board of governors, but if accepted, they could have substantial ramifications for the CFL game. Newly appointed senior vice-president (football) Glen Johnson, the former vice-president (officiating) and a long-time former CFL referee, who oversees this committee, said in the league's release that the extra "eye-in-the-sky" official in particular could help the league's referees get more calls right:

“Right now in some situations, our fans have access to a better angle on a game broadcast than our officials may have at field level,” said Glen Johnson, the CFL’s Senior Vice-President, Football.

“By putting a knowledgeable official in communication with the officiating crew during the game, we would be able to quickly and seamlessly fix incorrect situations without disrupting the flow of the game.”

The video official would act as a kind of “eye in the sky”, with access to the feed from a special camera that would capture all 24 players on the field.

For example, when both the offense and defence jump into the neutral zone prior to the snap and four officials have flags, all with a slightly different perspective, the video official could look at a play in a few seconds and tell the Referee which team jumped first, speeding up the game and ensuring the right call is made.

The Video Official would break new ground in the world of professional sports in North America.

This seems like a smart idea,and one that could further solve officiating issues. Video feeds and their varying angles really do often provide a better perspective than being on the ground, and the all-24 film in particular could be extremely useful for this. The expansion of video replay has definitely helped the league get more calls right, and the further expansions to it proposed here (making offensive pass interference, illegal contact and illegal interference on pass plays, no yards, illegal blocks on kick plays, contacting/roughing the kicker or passer, and illegal interference at the point of reception on kickoff attempts challengeable plays, plus adding failed two-point conversions to the automatically-reviewed list) seem logical, but this extra official could help even more. This also addresses some of the issues with challenge-based replay; namely, that it has the potential to slow down the game, and that the limited numbers of challenges prevent some calls from being fixed. An extra official who can quickly chime in when something is obviously wrong shouldn't slow down the game much, and it allows for more calls to be right without dragging out the process of getting them right.

Expanding the definition of illegal peel-back blocks also seems reasonable, as those can be a major injury risk. Here's what the league release has to say about those:

The committee also continues to put a clear emphasis on player safety.
,br> It proposes prohibiting players from pushing blockers through gaps in the offensive line on single point convert attempts and field goal attempts.

It also wants to expand the definition of a “peel back” block to make it illegal for any offensive player to block an opponent low anywhere on the field when he is moving towards his own goal line, not just those players that start the play in the Close Line Play Area, commonly referred to as the tackle box.

“Peel back blocks, although infrequent, are dangerous,” said Kevin McDonald, the CFL’s Vice-President of Football Operations and Player Safety.

“In order to improve player safety, we need to include other players that commit these types of blocks and expand the area in which these types of blocks are illegal.”

The committee also is recommending reducing the definition of illegal procedure (which would cut down on penalties), bringing in offsetting penalties for some scenarios, forcing teams to return kicks instead of taking the ball at the 35 after giving up a field goal inside the last three minutes of a game, and not flagging players for giving an opponent's offensive ball to fans. All of those changes seem reasonable as well. We'll see what the governors think of these, but from this standpoint, these look like good potential changes for the CFL.

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