Published on March 6, 2009 9:38 PM by dbo.
The CFL asked for feedback on rules from its fans last month and received over 2,000 email responses. Gleaned from the suggested changes were three changes that were taken to the CFL rules committee during the CFL Congress in Hamilton March 3rd and 4th. The rules committee announced Thursday they are recommending four rule changes to the board of governors, including a rule change designed to reduce the surrendering of safety touches, a fan complaint. I did not have the time to submit my opinion on rule changes to the CFL, so this post will serve as the public posting of my thoughts around the proposed league and fan rule changes.
I am mostly a traditionalist when it comes to tweaking rules. Any time rule changes are discussed, certain aspects of the CFL game which provide its uniqueness are usually the first things up for change. The primary areas targeted are the single point (rouge), the convert and the safety. These plays are labeled as boring and the normal solution is to eliminate or radically change the play completely. These changes never consider the reason the rule evolved to this point. There are factors such as graduated scoring and the goals of the game that are the basis of all rules. Fixing something without considering these aspects leads to an inconsistent set of rules.
Each of the rule changes that have been heavily discussed over the past few weeks have their underlying issues they are trying to solve, but finding a solution that stays true to the major principles of the rule book is difficult and the primary reason why certain rules are not changed, even if there is large fan dissatisfaction with the current situation. The CFL rulebook, evolved as it has, is still quite small at 95 pages including scoring rules and index compared to the complexity of the NFL rule book at 112 pages. Creating complexity with unique rules and scenarios does not help the officials who need to call the game.
Based on the media reports, three rules were the target of most fan comments. The suggested fixes are generalized with the standard suggestions that have been floated as solutions for years. I believe you must first understand the intent and history of the rule before determining how you can adjust the rule while maintaining the tradition, spirit and consistency of the rulebook.
The CFL game evolved from rugby roots, which is where it received the basic objective of the game and graduated scoring from. The basic tenant of the game is to move the ball across the opposition’s goal line. Passing or carrying the ball over the goal line, a touchdown, counts as 6 points with a reward for a convert attempt to score an additional 1 or 2 points. The convert bonus can be made by kicking through the uprights for a single point or running or passing the ball past the goal line for 2 points, both from the opposition’s five yard line. A field goal, or kicking the ball through the opposition’s uprights is rewarded with 3 points. Kicking from scrimmage through the deadline, out the sideline between the deadline and the goal line, or when the opposition fails to advance the ball beyond their goal line when receiving a kick results in a single point, or a rouge. The rule is not in place to reward failure, just as a field goal doesn’t reward the failure to score a touchdown, but as part of the graduated scoring for the accomplishment of getting the ball past the opponent’s goal line by kick. Finally, 2 points is scored when the defense prevents the opposition from advancing the ball past their own goal line on a play from scrimmage. These basics of scoring are consistent with the objective of the game, which is to move the ball down the field as much as possible.
The argument: The convert is automatic.
The proposed solution(s): Move 1-point convert attempts back to the 10 or 12-yard line, while 2-point attempts continue to be made from the 5-yard line. Eliminate the 1-point convert, forcing teams to attempt a 2-point convert. Change the graduated scoring to 1 and 3-point converts to encourage less 1-point convert attempts.
The counter-argument: Making different scrimmage points for different convert attempts forces teams to specify their intentions prior to the convert. Today, 2-point converts can be made off of 1-point convert attempts, either because of deception or broken-plays. 19-yard converts (NFL length) don’t necessarily provide a greater chance of a miss as NFL kicker’s had the same 99.5% kicking accuracy rate on converts last year. Forcing only 2-point converts has a radical impact on scoring ratios and may result in a reduction in scoring as the 2-point convert success rate is quite low. Changing the convert values is a major scoring change and has major ramifications to the traditions and history while it is not immediately apparent what value would have to be put on a convert before coaches would forgo the single point regularly in normal situations.
The argument: Too many safety touches are conceded by coaches for field position, leading to intentional penalties and very boring plays as teams try to run down the clock.
The proposed solution(s): After conceding a safety touch, the conceding team kicks off from their own 20 or 10-yard line rather than the current 35-yard line. Impose other penalties on teams who concede safeties on third down or for field position advantage.
The counter-argument: Changing the kick-off point may only reduce the situations where the safety is a coach’s preference. Facing a wind, coaches may still prefer to kick-off from the 10-yard line rather than punt from their end zone. Other penalties, especially when focused on trying to target surrendering a safety for field position, become too complex when all situational loopholes are handled or hard to enforce.
The argument: The single point or rouge rewards failure. Single point plays, especially when used to run time off the clock, are boring.
The proposed solution(s): Eliminate the single point on failed field goal attempts or only award if ball clears deadline. Eliminate single point on punts except when ball is kicked through sideline in goal. Eliminate the single point all together. Reward teams who run the ball out of their end zone on kicks with a scrimmage at the 25-yard line rather than the point of tackle.
The counter-argument: As shown above, the rouge has a long history in the game and is part of the graduated scoring. It rewards kicking distance. If anything, kicks through sideline in goal should not be rewarded with points but kicks out of deadline should, since deadline-to-deadline movement is the objective of the game. The single point produces excitement unique to Canadian football in teams exchanging kicks near the end of the game when tied or separated by a point. Rewarding teams with field position for return the ball across the goal line may result in players downing the ball just across the goal line rather than trying for a longer return, which is not much more exciting than conceding the single point.
The CFL announced four rule change proposals will be presented to the CFL board of governors in May for approval. The safety touch and coach’s challenge rules have some roots in fan suggestions while the wildcat rule and field goal scrimmage rule came from team suggestions.
Proposed rule: Team that surrenders a safety touch will kick off from their own 25-yard line versus their 35-yard line today.
Analysis: Will make some difference late in games and in close games, but coaches will likely stick with the strategy of giving up 2-points rather than providing the opposition with good field position. It will take some time, perhaps a couple years, until there is enough evidence of coaches getting burnt on the shorter kick-off (and offenses making the opposition pay with touchdowns) before their strategy will change. I think a minimum of 20-yard line would have to be adopted for any noticeable affect to be seen.
Proposed rule: Quarterback no longer needs to be in position to receive the snap from centre, allowing them to line up anywhere in the formation and running backs or receivers take the snap. Note this is properly referred to as a wildcat formation, not rule, as it is the absence of a rule restricting the location of the QB that allows its use.
Analysis: Adopted from the popularity in the NFL this past season, it should provide another deception wrinkle for offenses. It may help bring some unpredictability to offenses particularly in Toronto with the arrival of offensive coach Bart Andrus. I do have a concern whether teams will try to use this rule along with quarterbacks roster rules to get additional athletes on the field. For example, last year Toronto dressed their third-string quarterback as a receiver in order for him to play a receiver position, thus excluding him from taking snaps. It is not clear whether there would be a loophole that would allow a third-string quarterback to line up at a receiver position, with another quarterback on the field, effectively providing another import roster spot to teams.
Proposed rule: After a successful field goal attempt, the opposition no longer has the option to scrimmage from their 35-yard line or receive a kickoff. Instead, all touchdowns and field goals will be followed by a kickoff.
Analysis: CFL coaches have increasingly abused this rule over the past two decades, using it to be more conservative and scrimmaging the ball instead of using the return game. Previously the coaching strategy was to only scrimmage the ball when time or wind was a factor. This rule change forces the kickoff and hopefully will increase the focus on building a return game. The rule as proposed by the Toronto Argonauts was to force the kickoff after field goals in the final three minutes of a half was amended to the whole game to make the rule consistent rather than an exception. Originally focused on allowing teams to attempt on-side kicks after kicking field goals late in the game, the new rule allows that plus an increase in kick returns as well.
Proposed rule: If a coach is successful in both of his replay challenges, he receives another challenge.
Analysis: Apparently there were fan opinions on increasing and reducing the amount of replay challenges available. This seems to be a compromise to increasing the challenges outright, instead only providing an extra challenge on condition of the allotted two challenges being successful. I feel this does nothing to discourage the misuse of challenges already being seen. Challenges are used by defensive teams to break momentum of offenses early in games when the 10-yard catch being challenged has no bearing on the outcome. With the two challenges received and automatic review in the last 3-minutes of each half, there are enough challenges for each team to ensure game-deciding plays are reviewed. If not, then we are saying the officials are making more than four errors per game.
Propose change: A central replay challenge centre in Toronto is established to assist officials with replay challenges.
Analysis: Reducing challenge times to 90 seconds from when the referee’s first look at the replay sounds promising, but more time is spent prior to the referee going under the hood and this is unlikely to change that. Due to the cost of establishing such a centre, this proposal has the lowest chance of being approved by the board of governors.
The changes to come out of the rules committee meeting are minor tweaks to the game. The rules most raised for changes by fans could not be changed because there was no consensus on how it could be done while remaining consistent with the rule book. Implementing even one of the popular fan changes could have been a major rewrite of sections of the rule book which should not be taken lightly. Not everyone thought the exercise of getting public involvement was a serious effort, but more of a public relations move. I disagree. I think all fans apreciate the ability to provide feedback to the CFL. I think a public statement from the league rules committee explaining the issues in changing the top fan rule pet peeves would complete the feedback loop with the fans and educate them about the greater picture and legacy the league office must deal with.