Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a weekly columnist for 3DownNation.
Right around the time Jeff Reinebold was turning eight shades of purple Friday night, while arguing with an official after an absurd call late in the fourth quarter, my phone buzzed with a text from a CFL assistant coach.
“Refs on the field can’t get things correct, command centre can’t get things correct and today’s fiasco showed (the) video official doesn’t do his job either,” the message read. “I say games should now be played like pick-up basketball. No refs. Call your own penalties. Likely better officiated games.”
Now we’re on to something: No blood, no foul.
That reverting back to playground hoops rules – with tilted rims, shredded nets and an uneven court – is even being joked about this late in the season speaks to how inadequate the state of affairs are in the Canadian Football League’s officiating and discipline departments. It’s almost like every week, viewers are taken on a journey into the land of make believe.
Take Friday night, and why Reinebold had veins throbbing out of his neck. His Hamilton special teams unit attempted an onside kick with just over a minute to go, trailing by three. With the football in the air, Edmonton receiver Adarius Bowman reached for it and re-directed it out of bounds.
A flag came in, the stripes got together and reached this consensus: penalty on the Tiger-Cats.
“The explanation was that the ball, or the player, needs to come down in bounds, and because he was in the air and tapped the ball out, that’s a penalty on us,” Hamilton coach Kent Austin told reporters afterwards.
Forget that the league office, again, had to issue a memo and announce that yet again, late in regulation, they made the wrong call with the game hanging in the balance. The issue here is that, again, a group of officials huddled on the field, went through the play with one another – while armed with headsets to communicate – and decided that the right call was to penalize Hamilton.
“That is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in my life, as a rule,” Austin added.
The incredulity from Austin, the reaction from the assistant coach via text message, Reinebold’s face resembling an oompa loompa, it all capped a stretch over the past two weeks alone that now draws serious concern of how capable the league is of delivering properly on law and order.
Besides the onside kick call, consider:
EXHIBIT A: As time was expiring in Week 18’s Alouettes-Riders game in Regina, ball carrier Joe McKnight was being forced out of bounds when Montreal’s Winston Venable launched himself, left his feet, led with the crown of his helmet, and smashed McKnight helmet-to-helmet. There was no call on the play, game over, Montreal win. Had it, rightfully, been flagged, the game would not have ended on a defensive penalty.
— Jon (@jonathanwhudson) October 22, 2016
EXHIBIT B: CFL officiating czar Glen Johnson admitting to Drew Edwards that the command centre blew a critical call late in a pivotal division game between Hamilton and Ottawa, where a clear fumble was ruled incomplete by the replay official.
EXHIBIT C: (and this may be the worst one). Coming off the edge on a blitz, BC Lions linebacker Adam Bighill was cut from behind by Edmonton left guard Simeon Rottier. Bighill, who is damn fast, lost his footing and his momentum carried him forward, and he ended up colliding with quarterback Mike Reilly.
— Derek Taylor (@DTonSC) October 27, 2016
The 2016 CFL rulebook states the following about cut blocking under Rule 7, Section 2, Article 8: It shall be illegal to contact an opponent at or below the knees when that opponent is: (a) in a backfield position blocking for the passer or kicker.
Another way of putting it is this: In 2015 the CFL installed a rule where an offensive lineman facing his own end zone can’t hit a defensive player from behind with his helmet.
Under that premise, and having a sober second thought to dissect the play for a few days, the analysis by those entrusted with applying supplemental discipline led to a fine being levied.
Not to the offensive lineman, but to Bighill!
Understandably, Bighill, a six-year vet who has become one of the league’s elite defensive players, was furious. He took to Twitter to insist he’d not only appeal the ruling, but wondered aloud why there was no fine for Rottier.
Not to mention, no penalty was thrown for the illegal dangerous cut block, and no one is considering any discipline for it.
— Adam Bighill (@Bighill44) October 27, 2016
I asked a former CFL offensive lineman about the play. Someone without any vested interest in what any ruling would be. His reply: “What else is Bighill supposed to do? He’s going full speed, then he gets cut from behind? The guy in danger there is the defensive player as much as the quarterback.”
These three snapshots from the last couple of weeks alone – two of which came in game-deciding situations – capture how broken the system is in the CFL, and how much work there is left to do.
Exhibit A – didn’t get the call right on the field.
Exhibit B – didn’t get the call right upon replay review.
Exhibit C – didn’t get discipline right after a full evaluation process.
“To fine Adam isn’t fair,” a veteran CFL player I trust wrote me. “A defensive player playing full speed has zero chance of avoiding that hit when he’s forced into the QB, especially considering the act (cut block from behind) that forced him into the QB was blind to Adam.”
Zero chance of avoiding, yet a hefty fine applied.
Who knows anymore? It’s November. It’s all for keeps now. Is there full confidence inside the six football buildings left to duel for the Grey Cup that the officials and the command centre and the league office can get their acts together with the playoffs on the horizon?
Unless things change quickly, Reinebold won’t be the only coach whose eyes will bug out like a cartoon character in the face of an official.
Then again, there’s the option the assistant coach suggested in his text message: No blood, no foul.
It couldn’t get any worse that way, could it?
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