CFL making 'significant' changes to increase scoring
A CFL official is seen as the Edmonton Eskimos take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (Ian Kucerak/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency)
The CFL’s 12-member rules committee emerged from two long days of meetings at 9:30 p.m. Thursday night in a downtown Toronto hotel, having decided to make major changes.
They are hoping the new rules, which still have to be passed by the league’s board of governors, will result in more scoring and a faster-flowing game after a 2014 campaign in which points totals dropped and flags flew frequently.
Convert kicks will be moved back 20 yards to 32-yard attempts, two-point convert attempts will move up two yards, offensive and defensive players won’t be able to make contact with one another five yards past the line of scrimmage, and the five interior members of the punt team won’t be allowed to move down field until the ball is kicked.
“These are pretty significant,” CFL vice-president of officiating Glen Johnson said. “When you’re fixing something that was sort of creeping and creeping and creeping for a long time, there’s a lot of debt that gets built up over time. These are very significant.
“We’re going to see a lot more wide open play. We’re going to see a lot more talented plays happen this year. We’re going to see the stoppages go down, the tempo go up.”
Other changes include the addition of offensive pass interference being up for review, the ball being spotted much more quickly if teams ask for it, and five-yard no yards penalties will be added on to the end of the play instead of where the ball was received.
“The governors and presidents of the clubs gave us a mandate to look at the game very critically,” Johnson said. “They asked us to look at ways to increase the tempo, the pace of play, remove the negative stoppages in the game that slow it down and just give the clubs an opportunity to increase scoring, make more room out on the field, get rid of some clutching and grabbing that’s been in our game for some time.”
Previously, defensive players could jam offensive players — or vice versa — anywhere on the field. The amount of contact increased over the years to the point where the rules committee had seen enough.
“We’ve made it much more clear, much more black and white,” Johnson said. “Beyond five yards, if there’s contact created, we’re going to determine which of the players did it and one of those players is going to draw a penalty if that contact is material to the other guy and creates an advantage.”
There is fear that the new illegal contact penalty will change the way defence is played, that man-to-man coverage and physicality will be removed from the game. Johnson believes that will still be a part of the game, even if it decreases. And he doesn’t think fans will mind, either.
“We still want it to be football,” he said. “What we simply wanted to do was create more space to get rid of the clutching and grabbing and allow the athletes’ talents to shine through more.”
The one-point convert will now be a 32-yard kick instead of a 12-yarder. Last season 99.4% of the converts were successful, while only 81% of kicks were good from between 31 and 32 yards. It didn’t go back any farther because the rules committee didn’t want a brisk wind making a convert attempt impossible.
That being said, there’s now the two-point convert attempt from the three-yard line, which, Johnson said, means “There’s much more strategy now involved.”
The league will also try a three-point convert from the 10-yard line in the pre-season, but it won’t be implemented for the regular season.
The rules committee is made up of representatives from each team, the CFL, the CFLPA and the officials association.
SHORT-TERM PAIN FOR LONG-TERM GAIN
The CFL is hoping the rule changes that will be implemented this season will make the game more exciting for fans.
Expect there to be some growing pains, however.
That will be especially prevalent under the new illegal contact rules, which will disallow defensive and offensive players from crashing and banging into one another more than five yards past the line of scrimmage. It will likely result in a barrage of penalties in the early going, which is the last thing the CFL needs after a flag-filled 2014 campaign.
“With any change there’s understanding, training, implementation,” CFL vice-president of officiating Glen Johnson said. “Penalties could go up a little bit in the early days of this new illegal contact situation. But in the long run it’s for the good of the game. It’s a little bit of pain, but in the long run the game will be much better.”
The CFL hopes to speed up the game by giving headsets to its officials this season. They will be able to make penalty calls more quickly as a result, and the referee will be able to speak directly to the review booth without having to run over to the sideline.