The CFL’s officiating was already under the microscope this week following close and controversial calls in both divisional semifinals Sunday, and that scrutiny is only going to increase now that league vice-president (football) Glen Johnson (seen above during his days as a CFL referee) has said their officials got two calls wrong on the same critical play in the Edmonton-Hamilton East semifinal. Johnson told Drew Edwards of 3 Down Nation that on a play late in the game with the score tied at 21, the officials were wrong both in calling holding on Hamilton right tackle Brandon Revenberg and in not calling roughing the passer on Edmonton’s Odell Willis :
CFL vice president of football Glen Johnson said Wednesday the calls “do not meet the standard” set by the league.
On the issue of roughing the passer, Johnson said the league’s review process determined that replay official Jeff Harbin erred by not upholding the Ticats’ challenge against Willis.
“It was extremely close but when we go through it, we compare it to other ones we’ve called this season and I would have preferred that it would have been ruled differently,” Johnson said. “At the time, the replay official didn’t believe the hit was late but when we go back and look at the variety of different angles it’s clear that it’s within the tolerance we have for being called based on our video standards.”
Similarly, umpire Adam Paradowski, a four-year veteran from Moncton, New Brunswick, should not have flagged Revenberg for his block on the Eskimos’ Phillip Hunt.
“As the quarterback moves in the pocket, the official gets blocked out and by the time he gets the angle back, he sees the end of it and believes that’s enough for the holding call,” Johnson said. “But our standard is that we need to see the entire action.”
Here’s a GIF of the play in question, also from 3 Down Nation:
As Johnson notes, both of these calls are close, and it’s easy to see how the officials made the calls they did. Especially in real time, there isn’t much time between when Zach Collaros throws the ball and when Willis hits him. However, the Ticats’ appeal to replay should have worked; in slower motion, it seems clear that the ball leaves Collaros’ hand before Willis launches at him, and that’s often been called this year.
These calls certainly could have had a major impact on the game. Collaros’ pass should have resulted in a 17-yard gain, but the holding call wiped that out, and the lack of a roughing the passer call meant that Hamilton was left with second-and-14 on their own 10-yard line. That led to Collaros throwing deep on the next play and getting picked off by Kenny Ladler, which helped to set up Sean Whyte’s game-winning field goal (after a big John White run). If these calls had been made the way Johnson says they should have been, the Ticats instead would have had a first down on their own 52 with 90 seconds left, and a good chance at getting a game-winning field goal of their own and advancing to the East Final.
Of course, no one knows what would have happened if these calls had gone the other way. Maybe Collaros still throws a pick, and maybe Edmonton still wins in regulation. There were plenty of other plays that led to this outcome before this, and some after this also had an effect (Hamilton in particular had another chance when White fumbled on his first carry, but he managed to recover before the Tiger-Cats could). Still, an official admission of error like this is going to have a lot of Hamilton fans and players wondering about what could have been. One of them is defensive lineman Adrian Tracy:
So my question is when will they be held accountable? These apologies mean about as much as wet toilet tissue when you wipe. ???? https://t.co/KQrHi5XnKF
— Adrian Tracy (@ADTrac5) November 16, 2016
It’s positive that Johnson and the CFL are willing to admit when their officials get it wrong and discuss how they can work to be better, though. It would have been very easy to say nothing about this, and that might have led to less negative headlines in the short term. In the long term, though, this is the right move; it shows that Johnson and the league are actively working to improve the officiating, that they’re concerned about making calls consistent (which is really the biggest issue), and that they’re willing to own up to mistakes. No officiating crew is ever going to be perfect, and the CFL’s officials get much more right than they’re often given credit for. Admitting when they don’t may raise some immediate hackles from the aggrieved, but it shows that the league is working to improve its standard of officiating, improve the consistency of its calls, and be transparent when it makes mistakes. Those are all positives, and they show that improvement is happening, even if it won’t necessarily satisfy upset fans in this case.