Because video review is destroying the flow and spontaneity of all sports, of course it was a great decision by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie to reduce the number of coaches’ challenges per game.
Video review in the CFL has been increasingly under attack since the opening games of the 2017 season, when replay officials somehow upheld mistaken on-field calls that granted touchdowns — despite obvious fumbles — to Saskatchewan’s Bakari Grant and Calgary’s Kamar Jorden.
Numerous games got bogged down with lengthy reviews, including a Saskatchewan/Calgary game in which Roughriders head coach Chris Jones and Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson challenged rulings on the same play — and both were successful!
Afterwards, Jones noted the Stampeders were deploying their receivers on double-move routes designed to initiate illegal contact by the defenders past the allowable five-yard zone. The Stampeders would challenge those non-calls when prudent. Jones vowed to invoke similar tactics, which showed that coaches were using video to alter — and ultimately harm — the game.
Effective immediately, CFL coaches can challenge only one call per game; they must have a timeout available, which they would lose if their challenge is overruled. Since tinkering with their video rules midway through last season, CFL coaches were allowed two challenges per game, plus a third (provided they had an unused timeout for each challenge) if they were correct on both.
Nothing else changes, with all turnovers and scoring plays being automatically reviewed. And anything questionable in the final three minutes of a game is supposed to be reviewed automatically by the Command Centre.
Before a conference call Wednesday with national media, Ambrosie’s first major decision as the CFL’s new commissioner was described in a press release:
“Too many challenges and reviews are interrupting the game. Coaches, understandably since they are under pressure to win, have been using it to try to gain an advantage.”
Ambrosie insisted the changes were unanimously accepted by CFL personnel and were made to improve the fans’ experience. While touring CFL games during his first three weeks on the job, Ambrosie said he loved the enthusiasm of the fans while hearing them complain frequently about video reviews.
Some of the more recent examples of disputed reviews and non-reviews were a failed third-down sneak by Montreal’s Vernon Adams, and a late hit on Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray. All happened in the final, decisive moments of their games and were hotly debated as examples of why video review wasn’t helping the CFL.
The announced changes likely won’t help any maddening inconsistencies between the on-field rulings and the Command Centre decisions, but they will certainly decrease the number and length of the stoppages, which have been a major complaint among fans attending games and watching the telecasts on TSN. The replay officials are constantly working at improving their rulings, according to Glen Johnson, the CFL’s Senior Vice-President of Football.
There have also been criticisms of the number of rulings that were subject to video review. Since the introduction of video review to assess turnovers and scoring plays, the CFL took the risk of allowing judgment calls to be challenged; it started with defensive pass interference penalties and expanded to include many others, including the bugaboo of illegal contact on an eligible receiver. Illegal contact is the penalty most sought by desperate coaches on their so-called “fishing expeditions.”
During the conference call, Ambrosie said because the rules change was being made mid-season they wanted to keep it “simple and meaningful” with the notion that “a full and complete review” would be conducted at the end of the season. The review system, he conceded, “wasn’t designed to be perfect” and was intended only to correct “egregious mistakes.” Like all professional sports leagues that are using video review, the CFL’s system was designed to make sure bad calls did not affect the outcome of its games.
When asked why the CFL really needed video review, considering how much it bogs down games, Ambrosie replied: “We should throw that into the mix.”
Despite that, eliminating video review entirely isn’t likely to happen. Darn it!
Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.