May 13, 2016

Top official: CFL rule changes drawing NFL attention

Last season, when the CFL moved convert attempts back another 20 yards, the NFL followed suit. Glen Johnson hopes this type of innovation will make the game more exciting, attract younger fans and perhaps draw even more attention from south of the border. “It works for us to be able to innovate around these things,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what’s right for the NFL, I can’t speak for them, but I think we should be leading in these things and we are.”

The CFL senior vice-president of football has been visiting each market to update teams on new rules and policies to help make the game better and eliminate some of the negative perception from the last couple of years.

Johnson’s west coast stop included a presentation to the Lions coaching staff, as well as a talk to fans at Tuesday’s draft viewing party. He also spoke to media members and sponsors the next morning.

“It was a great opportunity to work with the coaching staff and try to minimize penalties in the game and also interesting to tell fans how the command centre works,” said Johnson. “Some wonder why it takes so long to look at calls.”

johnson fansSince Johnson’s promotion from the field to league head office, there has been a lot of progress. The average length of games is down to 2:52, about 15 minutes shorter than the NFL and 25 minutes quicker than NCAA college games, a sharp contrast to the belief that games are taking too long because of penalty flags and long replay reviews. Despite the improvements, Johnson admits there is still work to be done.

“There are still too many penalties, “he said. ”We know it and our fans know it.”

Along with reducing the number of flags thrown, making the games more entertaining and further emphasizing player safety are the main objectives for Johnson and his crew for 2016.

One new rule change, which Johnson says will take out roughly 100-150 penalties per year, allows offensive linemen more latitude to move before the snap of the ball, once they go into their three point stance. This change is also expected to benefit quarterbacks with better protection from their blockers. On the subject of flags and officiating storylines, Johnson insists the league has a great communicating system with its referees.

“Every single call one of our officials makes goes into a database and it’s all available to them within 48 hours of a game,” Johnson said. “Each one is categorized into good and bad, etc.” officials-ward-2015-1

In addition there has been greater accountability for performances. Eight officials did not finish the 2015 season and the best ones were handed more assignments as a result.

CFL referees will also benefit from a recent agreement with the NFL that will involve a select few heading down south to training camps and working in exhibition games. “It’s a real emphasis on development and exchange of ideas and best practices,” said Johnson. “The only way you practise is to get on the field more. Officials from both leagues are going to get more snaps, which will make both of us better.”

The addition of a new “eye in the sky” video replay official is expected to further speed up the game and allow the officials to rule on judgement calls a lot quicker, further eliminating penalties. “We’re only trying to fix egregious errors, but if we take a penalty or two out that shouldn’t have been called, that’s a great thing,” Johnson added.

Some of the new rules will be an adjustment to Wally Buono and the coaching staff as well. New rulings will be added to the “coach’s challenge” criteria including offensive pass interference, illegal blocks on kick plays, no yards, (called or non-called) roughing the passer and roughing or contacting the kicker. Although there are more plays a coach can request a challenge, they will still only have a maximum of three per game, so the decision to throw the challenge flag will become even tougher, especially early in the game.

Another added benefit to the new list of reviewable plays is some will be allowed to come inside the three-minute warning, providing more incentive to win the first two challenges and earn a third.

A major thing the CFL prides itself on is excitement and crazy endings and those could very well be on the rise yet again. Teams will no longer be allowed to scrimmage from their own 25-yard line after giving up a field goal inside the final three minutes. This will allow trailing teams to attempt an onside kick and have a quicker chance to score, without the leading team having a chance to run out the clock in three plays.

According to Johnson, more than half of the games in 2015 were decided in the last three minutes and roughly 45 percent by a margin of four points or less. “We get lots of positive feedback on the final three minutes, it’s exciting,” said Johnson. No teams are ever out of it and our finishes are some of the most exciting in football.”

johnson and wally

The end result, Johnson hopes, is for these changes and innovations to go a long way toward attracting the younger demographic to Canadian football.

“The way people consume the game is very important to us,” Johnson added. “What we’re trying to do around these innovations is create more five-second highlights, more vine clips – things that people can consume the way they want to.”

Matt Baker: