Madani: With latest blunder, confidence in replay reaches new low

Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a columnist for 3DownNation.

Of all the shames from Saturday night, two stand out: one, we were robbed of a sensational finish to an otherwise sensational football game and two; no stakeholder – be it a fan, coach, player, you name it – can have confidence in replay review. The CFL Command Centre clearly has no idea what a fumble is.

The Blue Bombers defence had just finished a terrific goal line stand, Moe Leggett making a world class play on Chris Rainey to shut the door on 3rd-and-1, with B.C. trailing four, and under a minute to play.

Leggett and the Winnipeg defence should have had to do it again. With the clock winding down. With playoff implications and home field and jobs on the line.

But instead, with the ball clearly moving and coming out of Andrew Harris’s arms, the league’s top replay officials deemed the Bombers tailback was down by contact.

Here’s the problem: he wasn’t.

You saw it, I saw it, Wally Buono saw it, Mike O’Shea saw it. A national television audience saw it.

It was clear as day, visible for anyone’s naked, untrained eye to see. Not sure what kind of medical benefits package the league office offers, but I’d add optometry to it, if it’s not already there.

The ball was loose, it should have been ruled a fumble and Lions ball, and one last chance for Jon Jennings against that Winnipeg defense, with the game on the line, in front of the loudest stadium in the CFL.

Instead, it wasn’t and no real explanation was given until a couple of hours following the game. Quietly, the league issued a statement to Drew Edwards of 3DownNation. They did not send it out via press release to the media to offer clarity, they remained mute on it on their social media channels — where the CFL often boasts of their in-house decisions. They tried to hide instead of being accountable for all to see.

The league claimed there was no visual evidence to overturn the call made on the field. That it, ahem, “could not be determined from the angles provided” if Harris had lost possession of the ball before his butt touched the ground.

How is it that everyone saw it but the command centre?

A Leos player fired me back four consecutive text messages when I copied and pasted the league’s ruling to him.

“Nope.”

“Wrong.”

“Wow.”

“I mean…”

Then 22 minutes went by and, unsolicited, came this from that very same player.

“If that wasn’t ruled forward progress and whistled dead, that’s bad. Like Fail Mary bad.”

The only plausible explanation for why the Harris bobble was not ruled a fumble is that: forward progress. That was the predominant belief by many football people league-wide who were watching the game live. But, then, you began to wonder: if this was a forward progress issue, why was it even a reviewable play, then?

“I don’t care who wins,” a team executive messaged over, “but [expletive] me.”

A source I trust who was on the Bombers sideline, told me that the on-field officials told Winnipeg’s people during the review break that it was a forward progress matter. Yet, moments later in-game, that wasn’t communicated as the reason for the ruling, nor was it in the explanation given by the league later that night.

The role of replay and the Command Centre is quite simple: get it right. If the league is incapable of making that happen, in critical, game defining moments, then what is the point of having the system in place?

And what a shame, as we look back on the game of the year, that it is tainted this way. This was a high-flying duel between two heavyweights, wanting their shot to fight for the belt next month. Winnipeg came out swinging fast, and B.C. took the blows in stride. Then came Jennings, with his cool moxie and wise-beyond-his-years poise, and he gave us more reason to believe Bryan Burnham is a human highlight reel.

The playoffs are a month away, and this game was played at a post-season level. It had it all. You just couldn’t turn away.

Some football executives are not fans of mic’ing up players and coaches, but on this stage, with the exchange of uppercuts and jabs for four quarters, it added to the theatre. You felt the tension. You understood the urgency, sensed just how much this one mattered to both teams. October football like this is why we come back for more.

Down the stretch, it was one big play after another. It was two teams, late in the year and their bodies battered, who left everything there. Leggett’s season looked over, for crying out loud, when he hobbled off early in the game, yet there he was, when push came to shove, in the dying moments of the final round, leaving his mark on a ballgame that for 59 minutes was the gold standard. Of why we watch, of why we maintain that you can put a classic three down game up against anything south of the border.

Then, just before the bell, the judges intervened. Earl and Dave Hebner could not have been this foolish. The puzzlement in the stadium was shared in living rooms across the country. Even the television studio panel, looking at the very same angles the Command Centre did, couldn’t offer any reason on how or why that wasn’t an Andrew Harris fumble

For more than three hours, two good football teams put on a spectacular show. For 59 minutes, it was Canadian football at its very best. The additional bells and whistles only added to it. You had the sense you were right there with them, feeling what they felt.

Then, just as Leggett and his defence should have come on to match-up one more time with Jennings and the B.C. red zone unit, out of thin air came an inexplicable ruling that left you feeling gross about the whole thing.

How could this be? Let them play! That’s a fumble, damn it.

We’ll never know if Leggett and his unit would have had another stop left in them. Or if Khari Jones would have kept the gadget plays in his holster for that final goal line series.

When Dale Scott blew it in Game 5 of the ALDS last October, calling the play dead in a sequence where the ball was live, he owned up to it post-game — speaking to a pool reporter. A week prior, officials missed the illegal bat by Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright at the end of a Monday Night Football game. Not long after, NFL officiating boss Dean Blandino was on television to explain what had happened and went wrong. And the NBA, of course, sends out memos when its officials make mistakes in the final minutes of games.

The CFL does none of that. In this scenario, though, it’s not on the stripes on the field. Glen Johnson owed it to viewers to provide a spin-free explanation. But didn’t.

The league sabotaged itself again Saturday night, and this time it may have decided the outcome of a game. It certainly robbed its audience of a fabulous finish at the gun.

The shame of it all is what was revealed to us all on Saturday night: that the people who are supposed to get it right are incapable of doing exactly that.

Arash Madani

Arash Madani

Arash Madani is a reporter for Sportsnet. He has staffed 11 Grey Cups & does play-by-play for CIS Football. His dream: the Gaiters playing for a Vanier.
Arash Madani
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Arash Madani
About Arash Madani (15 Articles)
Arash Madani is a reporter for Sportsnet. He has staffed 11 Grey Cups & does play-by-play for CIS Football. His dream: the Gaiters playing for a Vanier.
Contact: Website

36 Comments on Madani: With latest blunder, confidence in replay reaches new low

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that this game had the best possible ending,a stunning victory by the bombers ( not a bomber fan ).While it had the intoxicating spice of a judgement call gone wrong throwing everyone into a fit of passion,fan and writers alike, exploding all the guns at once into space as the song says, creating the best CFL ending.With a rematch coming between the bombers and lions what ectasy to come, what destiny to fulfil. What more could you ask of the end?

  2. I was already convinced that video replay needs to be seriously scaled-back given how all the challenges and video reviews are taking all of the enjoyment out of watching the game. Simply stop reviewing penalties is the answer to that concern. Last night’s incident convinces me that in addition to scaling-back, new people need to be put in charge of officiating and video review. That was a fumble! If the league office cannot admit that was a mistake, new people in the league office are desperately needed.

    • A lousy, and disputed fumble should never determine the outcome of a game. Can you not get off your high horse for a minute.As well, an unhuman, a cold machine must never be the judge of a close call at the end of the game that could determine the outcome.Humans play the game not robots and the referees at command center,even with their faults,must make sure a cold machine does not affect the outcome of a game.Upshot,it was a disputed,low talent bang and snatch grab,like going for a woman’s purse, and validated by a machine.I much prefer the ending by command center.

  3. oceanvista // October 9, 2016 at 3:41 pm //

    Great points Arash. You covered everything. Nothing more to say, other than “sad.”

  4. John Davis // October 9, 2016 at 3:44 pm //

    Catsclaw you wax so poetic about a horrendous gaff by the Control Centre which could affect the post-season of the league. We don’t need the excitement of “a judgement call gone wrong”. We need and should expect the validity of those making judgement calls to get them right. What more could I ask of the end. The Lions having the opportunity they deserved to come away with the win and the Bombers having the opportunity to even things up at our place – on the road as well.

  5. So your criticism is about mixed signals?

    They said very clearly at the live game (over the loud speaker) that the call was about forward progress, not a fumble. Seems to me that was communicated fairly clearly. The review was to settle wether this actually was the case or not.

    The final verdict did not say “down by contact”, it said the player was down… as in the play was considered dead.

    The refs should have let the whole thing play out. But that is a tough call to make in live action.

    I think you are blowing this way out of proportion. The only reason this means anything at all is because of the timing.

    • Agree. The league actually shot themselves in the foot by responding to the social media “officials”‘s uproar so quickly and inconsistently.

      In all honesty, I think it was a series of gaffes that let us to where we are. What should have happened is after the whistle was blown for forward progress the ball should have been reset and game on. If the officials had confidence in themselves that’s what would have happened. But instead, no officials have confidence in themselves because the “magic” of instant replay review consistently makes them look like fools by pointing out blunders that are completely beyond the scope of the naked eye at game speed.

      Instant replay and challenges have ruined this great game. Further, they’ve resulted in rules that took away some of the greatest action in the CFL – the fights between DBs and RECs. That’s the real shame.

  6. Here is another example of Command Centre incompetence from earlier this year. In a game with the Lions vs Als, the Als Linebacker, Venables clearly contacts Jennings with a head to head contact and no flag. So Wally challenges and the CC says “no penalty” even though the video clearly shows Jennings’ head snap back.
    A few days after the game Venables is fined by the CFL for the hit by the CFL. Since the CC and the league look at the same video, how can that happen???? The Command Centre’s purpose seems to be to back up the refs on field call regardless of video evidence. FIRE THE COMMAND CENTRE.

  7. Love to paint the picture as bad as you can don’t you. I think your issue is that sports net didn’t get the release. You should not be on 3 down nation.

  8. Dan Bombers // October 9, 2016 at 4:45 pm //

    New a tool like Arash would be all over this of course he fumbled but the whistle blew maybe too early but whatever it blew bombers have lost tons of games by bad officiating nice to get one back for a change

  9. Ron Bates // October 9, 2016 at 4:52 pm //

    The Leggett cut tackle was legal and first class as the Lions went for swiftness over bull power but to not clearly define the call on the Harris tackle is to not understand the reason for it. Harris was held up and with motion almost dead the double team of BigHill and Araki arm wrestling with Harris after he would have been on the ground created an opportunity to get the ball loose by stripping. Well I am sorry the call both ways was correct since stripping is a play more familiar to US Ball then here. It stems from an old rule there that until the ball carrier was completely stopped and motionless on the ground he was fair game. Well now we know better here, the desperate move by the Lions was as we saw it and the call correct as was the review. Why is the attendance slipping, it is too much focus on plays like the Harris play and disdain for how the rules here apply. It all shakes down, we saw that and judgement fair.

  10. like i said before the cfl is diong evrything it can to get the bombers in the playoffs fistr the cox incepation on labor day and now this fumble glen johnson must be related to someone on the bombers

  11. tell me something, does this call affect the standings in the east, afterall, coming out of toronto, i don,t trust them, just saying.

  12. Del Menard // October 9, 2016 at 5:53 pm //

    Because it’s at the end of the game, this matter seems even worse. But it’s a call that was made and couldn’t be overturned as explained by the CFL. If it was ruled a fumble, there still would not have been enough evidence to overturn it. There were all kinds of, should we say, ‘questionable’ calls during the game that were not changed and this last call can be regarded as one example.

  13. Have another donut Madani.

  14. Burnham’s td called back earlier was another another folly. There was no evidence to overturn as there was no camera on the goal line.

    • Get rid of the phony baloney “command centre” and let the officials call the game. Video review is NOT improving anything.

  15. Saynotoapathy // October 9, 2016 at 6:50 pm //

    IMO it was not a fumble and I totally agree with the CFL command centre.
    It was NOT a fumble people.
    Of course some of you may disagree.

  16. Trash can’t get drunk because his glass is always half empty

  17. Glenn Sinclair // October 10, 2016 at 12:35 am //

    Nice banter, but TSN along with all of us watching saw it as a fumble. No whistle beforehand, and quite obvious to us who’ve been watching CFL for several decades and played the game in our youth.
    We wonder why crowds are diminishing? No one trusts the officials, especially those in the command centre… and thus is not the early part of the season.

  18. Sorry Madani bashers, but Arash is bang on.

    I think the fact the league didn’t handle the aftermath correctly is a larger issue. Mistakes in officiating happen (and in video review, obviously… in a number of instances), but mistakes in how they’re handled after the fact can do worse damage to a reputation.

    PR 101: If you have made a mistake, own it and be open and honest about that across all communication channels. And if you sent mixed messages, clarify them.

    The CFL has owned up to mistakes in the past but this year they seem guarded about doing that. And it’s hurting them.

  19. Dogfather // October 10, 2016 at 1:52 am //

    Arash, as the beginning of this article says: “Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a columnist for 3DownNation.”

    Leave rule interpretations to people who know better and have experience in the area of interpreting reviews and rules.

  20. Sea of Dead // October 10, 2016 at 9:39 am //

    I’m not a particular fan of yours and certainly not a fan of either team but in this instance have to say WELL SAID, MADANI.

    The CFL continues to shoot itself in the foot with substandard officiating, damaging review rules & shoddy judgement.

    I have been a CFL fan virtually my whole life but have doubts that I will remain so for much longer. The league office constantly finds ways to kill the sheer enjoyment of the game for a fan base in decline. And former fans are just finding better things to do with their time than experience ongoing frustration with the league or their teams week end and week out. So sad.

    • So the answer to frustration is let the league die? So that one day we can just wake up without a CFL and our world will be a happy place once again?

      Not sure how that is the answer. A whole life of being a fan seems like an awful lot of years to just throw in the trash can. The CFL has grown leaps and bounds under the guidance of our former commissioner. A league in a consistent downward spiral is not an accurate picture. Did the sheer level of this firestorm (against the reffing) exist before Friday’s fumble bumble?

      I’m all for fixing the problem for the betterment of the game. The rule for challenges was an attempt to do that. It might not be working, but that doesn’t mean the league isn’t trying.

      I am not going to throw my league under the bus for the sake of a season or two of reffing struggles. I can’t just turn off all of the years of my own passionate involvement and investment, and I am not going to quit investing in my son as the upcoming generation. Here’s the bottom line: if I tell him the league is worthless and not worth his time, then I become just another piece of the puzzle of failing to move the league forward. Sure, everyone can go on their merry way and be distracted by the more glamorous picture South of the border, but the truth is that can never live up to the emotional attachment that comes with cheering on a home team. It will always remain at a distance.

      It’s always worth fighting for because the only alternative is no league at all. And coming from a city that allowed the Jets to die (and I’m not even a hockey fan), you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. So while maybe some of what you have to say might be right, I would encourage you to change your language. Fight for it not against it.

      #CFLproud
      #Canadian
      #hometeam

      • John Davis // October 10, 2016 at 2:23 pm //

        Couldn’t agree more! The CFL has its issues and problems but its unique, exciting, its where some of our own best college players can make a career – and its ours. A big problem is decisions shrouded in secrecy as if everyone associated with the teams and the public in general should not know why decisions are made. Mike up the referees so we can know the reason for the penalty, mike up the coach’s requests for reviews so we can know why they are making the request and mike up the discussion of a televised and transparent “Control Centre” – visible and audible. We may still not understand or agree with their decisions but we may know why that decision was made.

  21. Really well said.

  22. I have said this repeatedly. The CFL needs to look at how video review is done at international rugby games. Referee and Video reviewer both miked up, can be heard in stadium, and to the TV audience. It is Open, transparent, and efficient.

  23. Great suggestion.

    The only problem might be that Orridge doesn’t seem to want things to be open and transparent.

  24. Arash: Thanks for having the cajones to say what needed to be said. I have been a CFL fan my whole life, but its hard to defend the league to others when calls like the one in this article are made. This isn’t the first time either when a game deciding call has been blown, not only by the command center but on the field as well, before there was a command center.

  25. Paul Bomber // October 11, 2016 at 10:31 am //

    Oh my gawd people… suck it up! There was an obvious illegal block earlier in the game that should have brought back a huge Leo’s return that lead to a touchdown.
    This is football… get over it! (& it was forward progress).

  26. Does anyone have a link that shows the ball out and Harris not on the ground?

    I haven’t seen one, and I watched the broadcast and have checked all the articles I can.

    It seems logical he likely had not hit the ground by the time the ball was out, but no angles show it.

    Why would the call be overturned?

    It was a forward progress issue anyways.

    Arash must be Wally’s best friend.

    p.s. Rod Pederson called and wants his biased reporting back.

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