Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flag the CFL for backwards logic

Could allow refs to wash hands of P.I.

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If you can't make the officials better, why not make their jobs easier?

Such is the seemingly backwards logic being put to the test in the CFL right now, as the rules committee has submitted several proposals for approval, the most noticeable being the suggestion pass interference now be a reviewable call on instant replay.

The reflex visualization of this proposal is one of the game being stopped every time there is excessive hand fighting between receivers and defensive backs, whereby some officiating nerd who has never played the game in his life, slow-mos it screen by screen and sends a text message to ex-officiating chieftain Tom Higgins for advice. Since P.I. is a subjective call, often open to interpretation, just because a call is sent in for review doesn't necessarily mean anyone else is going to do any better.

Word on the street is the officials are ecstatic about handing some of this responsibility over to someone else because it is a no-win proposition from their end.

Aside from the most blatant of grabbing and tackling calls, most P.I. penalties can be argued either way. Rare are the calls where 100 per cent -- or even a strong majority -- will agree, so it's not surprising the refs are happy to wash their hands of it.

Of course, the problem in the CFL has been even the most obvious interference calls and non-calls are often incorrectly judged by the officials, so this rule change would potentially eliminate all Captain Obvious calls and redirect fan angst from on-field officials to some remote feed in Toronto's hinterland.

Whether you agree with this proposal or not, the message it sends the fans is: "Yes, we understand we haven't been able to improve our officiating, seemingly, since the inception of time. So, instead of spending money on educating, training and salaries, we are just going to dumb things down for them."

Context

Pass interference may indeed be the hardest call to make on the football field, where camera angles and slow motion could help determine calls where the entirety of the play was not seen or just happened too fast. Yet if everyone agrees it is subjective, then isn't there something to be said about leaving it in the hands of the official that is at least on site? As much as reviewing a call can capture every movement in every frame, and slow down the pace the game is played at, you lose context when you go to the booth.

What if the officials had been allowing the receivers and defensive backs an equal amount of physical play on that day? What if they decided to keep their whistles in their pockets and let them play through what the book would normally label as P.I.? Also, just like in hockey -- though they will never admit it -- there are makeup calls in football, where officials try to balance out the fairness of play over the course of a game. Referees, sitting somewhere distant, with a remote feed of the contest, have no feel for the flow of each unique game or what has been permissible on any given day.

Saying all that, the most compelling piece of information that should overturn any initial resistance we may have to this new rule is the fact coaches will have to burn a challenge to use it. Coaches only get two challenges a game -- that is not going to change -- and a third, only if they get the first two right. So, as long as they don't increase the number of challenges overall, I couldn't care less if a coach wants to challenge the call the Alouettes made in putting Ochocinco on their negotiation list.

If, during the 20 seconds of time in between plays, the coach of a team thinks a call was blown and wants to risk losing one of only two challenges and a possible timeout, does it really matter what is being challenged?

All scoring plays are already automatically reviewed in the CFL. As long as discretionary calls are not automatically reviewed -- disrupting the flow and speed of the game -- and the coaches aren't given more than two chances to object to the proceedings during a contest, I see no problem with a reviewable pass-interference rule being implemented, and neither should you.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2014 D2

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