September 27, 2011
One of the few notable moments in the B.C. Lions' emphatic 42-5 thumping of Saskatchewan Saturday came with just over a minute left in the contest, and it was quite frightening. B.C. defensive back Korey Banks was trying to cover Saskatchewan slotback Weston Dressler on a deep route down the middle, but lost track of where the goalpost was, with disastrous results:
Fortunately, Banks wasn't badly hurt. He left the field under his own power following the collision (which you can see above), and as he told Mike Beamish of The Vancouver Sun, he was able to prepare himself for impact before making contact with the post. Some have also questioned why Banks would go all-out with the game so firmly in hand, but they obviously don't know Korey Banks.
"I braced myself before I hit," explained Banks, who had been running at full speed. "I hit the side of my head. I play for pride. Why give them the ball? [despite the Lions being up by 37 points with just over a minute left]."
The question is if this is an anomaly or a serious problem the CFL should look at. The NFL used to have its goalposts at the front of the end zones, but moved them to the back in 1974 partly to avoid these kinds of collisions. Over at Yahoo!'s excellent NFL blog, Shutdown Corner, Matthew J. Darnell makes the case that the NFL's alignment's the better one. However, for the Canadian game, there are several reasons why the front-of-the-end-zone alignment is optimal—and why plays like this one represent only a rare situation, not an ongoing concern.
First, there's the end zones themselves. For the NFL, putting the goalposts at the back works just fine because the end zones are only 10 yards deep. That's not a ton of extra distance for field goals. In Canadian football, though, the 20-yard end zone would mean teams would have to get 20 yards closer than they currently do when trying field goals. Combine that with the longer field (110 yards instead of 100 yards), and you'd significantly reduce scoring if you moved the goalposts to the back. Given that high-scoring football is one of the CFL's chief selling points and is pivotal to attendance and television ratings, this becomes prohibitively problematic.
Moreover, the other crucial advantage of putting the goalposts at the front in the Canadian game is that it enables teams to defend against rouges (such as the one that proved to be the winning point in the Winnipeg-Toronto clash Friday). If the posts were at the back, a missed field goal would almost automatically be a rouge. With the posts at the front, teams can put players at the back of the end zone to defend against rouges, and that often leads to ridiculously entertaining plays like the Montreal-Toronto finish in November 2010. Those plays, and the strategy around them, are crucial parts of Canadian football's history and heritage, and they shouldn't be abandoned lightly.
Of course, player safety is more important than anything else, so if we were seeing plays like the Banks one over and over again, maybe it would be time to rethink goalpost placement. We're not, though. As Banks' Lions' teammate Ryan Phillips told the Sun, this incident's the first one of its kind he's ever seen:
"I've never seen something like that since I've played here [seven seasons]. I've never seen anybody run into a post at full speed like that.
In fact, Banks and teammate Tad Kornegay went as far as criticizing Saskatchewan backup quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie for the pass, suggesting there's an unwritten code that players don't throw towards the post. Here's what they told The Province's Lowell Ullrich:
"I saw [the post] coming and I was able to brace myself a little, but who throws a ball to that spot on the field?" Banks said.
Not every one of his defensive teammates was prepared to back up the assertion that a pass attempt aimed at the post or through the upright isn't kosher because of the potential of danger associated with the throw.
But Banks did have some support.
"You're not supposed to throw the ball in that area," said defensive back Tad Kornegay, who was Dinwiddie's teammate at the start of the season.
"Maybe the ball came out of the quarterback's hand; you don't know. I don't think he tried to do it intentionally."
It's quite conceivable there is some unwritten rule to try and avoid throws right to the post (bringing a whole new meaning to "post route"), and that makes some sense, as receivers can get hurt on that route just as easily as defenders. It's also possible that explains why we don't see this much. Still, passes near the post shouldn't be legislated out of the game; that would be ridiculously tough to enforce, and it's a legitimate part of the field. There are enough incentives to discourage quarterbacks from throwing there frequently anyway, between potential unwritten codes and the more tangible chances of hurting their receivers or having the pass hit an upright (and be declared a dead ball in the process). Moreover, the posts are significantly padded (as you can see in the shot above, which is also giving the Regina Leader-Post some free publicity; very appropriate sponsorship there), so even a collision of the force Banks had may not be all that damaging.
In the end, the front-of-the-end-zone goalpost is uniquely Canadian, and it's a valuable part of this game. Taking it out would interfere with the CFL's history and would impact every area of the game from passes to field goals to rouges.The status quo works fine as it is, and it will continue to work fine if both offensive and defensive players keep a good sense of where the post is at all times. That's why the Banks incident is far more a once-off than a real concern. Front-of-the-end-zone posts may look odd to Americans, but they're radically Canadian and a crucial part of our league. Maybe they're even further proof that our balls are bigger.