CFL’s law and order has been a journey into the land of make believe

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.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator, Jeff Reinebold, yells at a referee following an attempted on-side kick by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats late in the second-half of CFL football action against the Edmonton Eskimos in Hamilton on Friday, October 28, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator, Jeff Reinebold, yells at a referee following an attempted on-side kick by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats late in the second-half of CFL football action against the Edmonton Eskimos in Hamilton on Friday, October 28, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

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.

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.

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.

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?

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
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

31 Comments on CFL’s law and order has been a journey into the land of make believe

  1. I don’t know about that last one Arash. I don’t think it is a cut block. The video shows that contact is made above the knee, and I think it is debatable whether contact is made from the side or behind.

    While I think the penalty on Bighill was deserved (intent does not matter for roughing the passer) a fine seems a bit much given the momentum of the player.

    • While you can’t measure intent, and can argue whether or not Bighill was cut you sure can’t question whether Bighills hit was the result of the contact made on him by an Edmonton player. Really no different than calling goal tender interference when the defending player pushes the offensive player into his own goalie.

      What I find horrible this year is the coaches challanges that are nothing more than fishing expeditions. Particularly contact on a Receiver! It’s called when it has no impact on the play. The officials need to be allowed to use some judgement.

  2. I just pray that none of these blown calls happen in the playoffs or god forbid the Grey Cup. I do have zero to no confidence in the officials after watching they make questionable calls all season. The league really needs to overhaul officiating this off-season, as well as get these challenges for PI ironed out. All of it is ruining the game and causing fans to lose confidence in the league.

    • You mean like calling a penalty on the defender *and* the receiver in the ’81 Grey Cup?

      Or calling defensive pass interference despite the defender standing still to make the INT?

      For better or worse – blown calls are not new to the playoffs.

  3. Brian Eggleton // November 3, 2016 at 11:44 am //

    I commented a few games ago after the blown call in the Hampton/Ottawa game about the oh well we got it wrong…sorry, but too late attitude of the CFO officials. I still believe there should be a consequence equal to the missed call, but not firing or suspended the crew or official. I suggest some sort of game protest. If upheld then a replay would occur if it affected the outcome of the game…it would be the choice of the affected team, like soccer where there are extra minutes tacked onto the game. The fans would get their money’s worth, and the teams would still decide the outcome…instead of the officials…..

  4. Terry Baxter // November 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm //

    This is out of hand. Is the reason we are seeing such bush league calls because CFL is broke and can’t afford to pay better referees? Nothing will turn the few fans that the CFL still have, off faster is this type of refereeing. League should be ashamed of itself.

    • Terry you are obviously not a fan of the league and if you are you know little about it. Where do you get the idea the league is broke? or that there are few fans left? Yes attendance is down slightly over all but over the last 5 plus years it has grown significantly. There are new buildings or renovated buildings in every city but Calgary and TSN has helped build a stable viewership for the league. As for not being able to afford to pay officials well I do agree more needs to be invested in training them but our league is no different than the NFL in that respect. In the past few weeks there have been bad calls most recent effecting a Seahawks game. Full time officials would be great but not financially feasible. The problem really comes from the fact there isn’t enough young men or women officiating in lower levels. With the abuse most take from parents they don’t stick around long enough to look at becoming a pro ref. The league needs to open up the boarder and bring in refs from US college and high school. This is the only way for the CFL to get a good influx of new officials to help improve our game.

    • I agree the league should be ashamed of itself. The whole league is just very dysfunctional now. You’ve got all the controversy with Saskatchewan and the Chris Jones talk during the Grey Cup week last year and also early in this season with their fines. Toronto has completely fumbled the Grey Cup ticket situation. Plus Edmonton goes all crazy with the mics, and is still publicly complaining about it. It is not only the refs making the league bad right now. The board of governors better sit down and figure this out.

  5. Hamilton arguing the Bowman call is just as crazy as the call itself; the penalty for illegal kick doesn’t change the outcome of the play in any way. Because the ball left the field of play outside the returning team’s 45 yard line, they acquire possession of the ball at the point where it went out of bounds. Since Bowman tipped it anyway, Edmonton would have gotten the ball at that same point. So There was literally no reason at all to argue the call because nothing changed in terms of outcome of the play.

    Agree with Exhibits A and C, but Exhibit B not exactly a clear fumble. I still think his rear touches the ground before possession of the ball is lost.

    Maybe the league should look into Ed Hervey’s recent idea of mic’ing the officials…

    • From a Ticats fan. I agree in part that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of the game but that is not the point. The point is that even after the officials all huddled together they all reached the wrong decision. What is even more ludicrous is that what they came up with doesn’t even exist in the rule book they made it up! The concern here is the fact the officials don’t know the rules period not where or when the wrong call takes place. Last season against Ottawa on an interception return for a touch down that would have won the game yet again for Hamilton not one but two calls were made to bring the ball back, the league came out two days later and admitted not one but both calls were wrong! This is an on going issue and quickly needs to be addressed.

    • I see all sorts of problems with your thinking.

      First is that if an illegal kick does not change the scrimmage point – why don’t all teams make illegal kicks to keep the ball out of dangerous returner’s hands? There’s no disadvantage, right?

      Not to mention that there’s lots of HC’s as well as commentators who have stated it *was* a disadvantage.

      Secondly – the TSN log says the kick off was the Hamilton 35 and ball went out at the *kicking* team’s 50. Rule 5 Kicking, Article 2, part B – out of bounds without being touched says the penalty is the choice of a re-kick or where the kicking team touched it (i.e. the Hamilton 50). It just happens that the choice made by Edm makes it look like it made no difference.

      It seems a bit much to expect in the heat of the moment to be able to predict whether the other team will elect for another kickoff or take it where it is.

      I’d also like to see the replay because Article 7 says that since Bowman tipped the ball, one of him or the ball has to land in bounds for possession to be awarded.

      As Exhibit B … where one does not see a fumble, surely the command centre rulling “no catch” is a problem.

      • If teams kick the ball out of bounds deep down the field, the receiving team gains possession of the ball at their own 45. If the ball goes out of bounds outside of that yard line, such as on an onside kick, then they would get the ball at that point if they elect to take it there, as you pointed out Edmonton did. So if teams were to kick the ball out of bounds – illegally – the receiving team would get the ball at the 45, which is a huge field position boost.

        Article 7 which you refer to is a weird rule to me. Even if Bowman (receiving team) were to tip the ball and land out of bounds, it would still be ruled an illegal kick, and Edmonton wouldn’t be penalized at all for Bowman landing out of bounds. It’s a strange rule that still rewards the receiving team for not abiding by the rule, and should be looked at in the off-season to be changed. But, since it is the rule, it’s what we have to live with for now.

    • Alberta Cat // November 3, 2016 at 5:30 pm //

      I think you missed the boat entirely on exhibit B. Cfl command said he didn’t even have possesion and it wasn’t a catch and therefore couldn’t be a fumble. You claiming that Ellingson’s butt touches the ground before the ball comes out still contridicts the CFL officials because you think he had possesion. So then you must agree that in all three cases that Arash Madani presents, the officials made an error. Maybe you should check what the call was on a particular play before making a comment on it.

  6. RabidTicat // November 3, 2016 at 1:13 pm //

    I submit, that, at about the 5.5 second mark, Bighill makes contact with Riley whilst he is still in possession of the football. So, unless it was a low hit that they were calling, he should have been allowed to make contact with the quarterback. Now I don’t know what the rules are on low hits on the quarterback, or whether there is any consideration with regard to a player that has been redirected.8

    • I don’t know for sure … but based on the commentators, it sounds like where one is unblocked, the CFL wants the hit to be between the shoulders and the knees.

    • Hits below the knee on the QB when he is in the pocket are supposed to be a roughing the passer penalty.

  7. I will give you one more … look at the full body slam hit on Collaros that put him out with his second concussion. No call on the field. Looked at by the League and not supplementary discipline … now go back at look at the Bighill situation. It is hard to escape the view that Reilly and Mitchell get more protection than Collaros and Ray on these calls.

    I think that the game would be better off if fumbles did not result in a loss of possession – just a dead ball at the point of the fumble. Who wants to see a fumble? Not an exciting play. This rule would take much of the randomness out of the game and end the micro-management of calls that depend on milliseconds.

    On the other hand, everyone loves to see an interception … so end the waggle to even up the odds and permit incidential contact and full on contact as long as the defender is going for the ball and not just impeding the offensive player. Fewer PI calls and more interceptions …. more satisfying for the fans.

    The League look to basketball’s “no harm no foul” principle. The officials should be schooled that a penalty should be called only if it clearly affected the play. In the Hamilton – Edmonton game a flag was thrown because an Edmonton lineman lined up with his white gloved hand 2″ inside the 1 yard set back. In the end the penalty was declined … but this kind of judgment by the official needs to be schooled out of the league … don’t even get me started about the “he moved the ball” call on Hamilton against Sask.

    • A fumble results in a dead ball?
      Eliminate the waggle?
      Ignore an obvious call on the LOS? It happened to the Tiger-Cats last year against the blew team, didn’t it?
      What’s next – eliminate the 5-yard halo for No Yards and institute the “fair catch” and allow the punting team to down the ball? Rule a play dead as soon as a receiver or running back falls to the turf; even without contact from the defence? Shorten the field to 100-yds and shrink the end-zone to 10 yards deep? Add another down and increase the play clock to 40 seconds? Decrease the number of on-field players to 11? Eliminate the ratio?

      These are all things the help make our game unique. The League has to clean up it’s own house in the officiating department, but to do as you suggest is insane…

      • Sorry Zugar but I agree with Aaron on this one. A fumble is exciting and a big part of the game. What I do agree with is how the league saw the hit by Huges on Collaros as a legal hit. It was late and unnecessary. They say they want to protect the QB but it seems it only applies to the few (Bo Levi)

    • I agree with the body slam of Collaros being a penalty.

      Rule 7, Article 4 – Roughing The Passer under a) Contacting the passer in an unnecessary manner, including stuffing him to the ground, violently throwing him to the ground, and landing on him with most of the defender’s weight.

      It seems clear that the with ball gone, there was no need to body slam Collaros. I’m not finding the replay but I recall the Stampeder leaving his feet as well as making sure his weight landed from above.

    • Penalty for hiking the ball, I call it. I don’t think you completely described the hurt on Zach. I thought he was (possibly on purpose) driven nearly head first into the ground and then driven into the ground as the hit continued downward on an upside down Zach. Kind of like a great white hitting a seal, but down instead of up. We just have to still win! Not fair to us or the seal!

  8. Alberta Cat // November 3, 2016 at 5:38 pm //

    I wonder if the CFL will fine Arash Madani for writing this article!

  9. Lindsay Wilcox // November 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm //

    After I reviewed repeated replays of Bighills’ play: I am not convinced that Rottier cut-blocked him; Bighill may have been a little off-balance, the hit which looked clean to me only increased the likelihood that Bighill was going down. As he made contact he aimed his right arm and shoulder at Reilly, and contacted him below the knees which definitely was a penalty, and probably worthy of a fine. Remember – perception varies with the viewer/witness, and there are really very few “facts”, but billions of opinions.

  10. I agree that Adam Bighill should not be fined. There was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent that hit on Reily. What i saw was an offensive lineman diving to trip an LB to stop him having a clear run at the QB. Was it dangerous, I don’t know. But I believe a penalty of some sort should be called on the offensive lineman for impeding the defenders pursuit of the QB

  11. Prayers with Arash’s family for recovery
    The NFL today announced there shift towards full time opportunities for their officials too. Many moonlight
    In the booth I think responsibilities should be divided up between 4 people. Each being better versed in a particular area
    And a think tank group made up of some of Arashes’ contacts right here in this story! Among others
    Fans have already left. Viewership may be way up but then lost again due to these joke calls

  12. This year the league brought in “cross training” for the CFL/NFL refs which I believe was a mistake. What better way to muddy the waters than to have the refs try and learn two sets of rules!
    Let’s cut this out and spend more time training the refs the CFL rules, before they head out on the field.

  13. Cam Levack // November 3, 2016 at 11:06 pm //

    The controversial “fumble” by Greg Ellington was ruled a catch, then reviewed. I didn’t see enough evidence to reverse the decision made on the field. Ticats wanted a fumble of course. But the final decision – an incomplete pass – pleased no one, just a politically motivated compromise. If the principle is that any reversal requires irrefutable evidence, then this one was really bungled. That said, the officials deserve some love from us fans. It’s a tough job and most of the time they get it right.

    • Cam Levack, you’re dead wrong. He took 2 steps, then the ball came out before his butt hit the ground. Clear fumble, no question.

  14. Robin (from THE city) // November 4, 2016 at 7:59 am //

    Yes, this is the league of make believe calls and non calls made by pretend referees.

    Only the players, coaches and the disasters are real.

  15. The name that should be spoken about is Glen Johnson.
    Since coming into his position…it has only gotten far, far worse.
    He needs to be replaced, and “should” be replaced.
    It is on him…no one else.
    Perhaps Tom Higgins would be interested returning to the position.
    Several years ago when Tom was in charge “things” were improving.
    As he held people to account.
    In his 2nd year he “fired” yes…fired 3 Ref’s.
    2 were let go for “NOT DOING” correct work calling games…”on field work”.
    And the 3rd was fired for being involved in betting on games.
    Sadly for the CFL Tom returned to Coaching.
    But I believe since leaving the train-wreck in Montreal…he is unemployed.

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