In Defence of the Single

Published on May 5, 2013 12:53 PM by dbo.

Besides the co-existence of the Rough Riders and Roughriders, nothing creates more insecurity amongst Canadians than the single point in Canadian football. Despite the Rough Riders no longer existing, the “can’t have two teams with the same name” claim is still trotted out even though other precedents exist (in the country where they require their much needed validation from). Just like there is no understanding of the history, reasoning, or parallels elsewhere on team names, the single point abolitionists hang their argument solely on “it rewards failure”, blind to the facts around its purpose and spouting poor metaphors to prove their position. The latest is the recently published article by Scott Radley calling the continued existence of the single point a mistake. Now is the time to present a defence for the single point.

The Defence

Radley’s article is one of the better written arguments for abolishing the single point, at least it exceeds two sentences. Like all who wish to repeal the single point, he hangs his argument on the sole element that the single point rewards failure.

Stop rewarding failure, in other words.

I don’t know who said it first and when, but the origin does not matter. The “rewards failure” statement is a surface view of the situation, but it is catchy and succinct, something to get people to rally around. It is spin however, not fact, even though everyone who has repeated it since has believed it to be true. I will get to why this core argument has no standing as we navigate through the other parts supported by it.

Fail as a kicker north of the border and you can still be rewarded. That may be tradition and it may be compassionate, but it’s not sports.

Radley calls the single a reward, specifically for the kicker. Talk to any kicker and ask him if he feels rewarded. Whether for a missed field goal or a punt, a single point indicates he didn’t do his job. Too many of them and his coach is going to have some words with him and enough and he will be bringing his playbook in to the meeting. No, it isn’t a reward to players, coaches or teams. I wouldn’t call a touchdown a reward either, or a goal in hockey. They are scores, plain and simple. Football just has multiple ways to score.

Radley calls the single “compassionate” to win people to his side since no red-blooded male needs compassion in their sports. He is using something against the other side that isn’t in their argument at all, a type of straw man argument. Is there any evidence the original rule makers said “We will give a single point for misses because we are compassionate towards kickers” or that those who wish to maintain the single use compassion as their argument? No, so compassionate tradition have nothing to do with why the rule exists and why it should be maintained.

The only way to win is to execute better than your opponent.

Very true. In a 1-0 game (theoretical since such a score would be rare as hens teeth in the post-modern era) with the only point scored on a single, did the winning team not execute better to score that point? They manoeuvred to a position to score that point, the other team didn’t manoeuvre enough to score any. If one team is executing better, touchdowns and field goals are going to exceed single points. I fail to see how the single point prevents the right team from winning. The scoring system values allow the team executing better more points (1 converted TD equals 2 field goals and a single point, or one score is equal to 3 others).

We don’t give a couple points to a receiver who gets his hands on a pass in the end zone, but drops the ball.

Dropped passes don’t score points, it is true. But dropped passes have nothing to do with the core purpose of the game, moving the ball up and down the field and crossing that goal line. Kicking the ball, a much larger part of the game in its origins, has always been part of the tools available to move the ball down the field and score. Radley continues with the parallels:

We don’t give a hockey or soccer player half a goal for hitting the post. Why not though? He nearly did his job. Surely that’s worth something.

We don’t award a batter in baseball half a run for hitting a ball far enough to be a home run, but hooks it just foul. Or if he hits it to the warning track where it’s caught. If we give a point for narrowly missing a kick, maybe we should extend the same measure of forgiveness here.

We can keep going. Jump shots that hit the rim and bounce out, putts that rim out of the hole, and tennis players whose shots land just an inch or two outside the line, should all have value of some kind if close is going to count.

The fact these aren’t serious suggestions in his mind proves that the single point is in the same category and wouldn’t be considered as a serious rule addition today. But his parallels are out of sync. Soccer and hockey players have one way to score, put the ball or puck in the net. Baseball players score by advancing around the bases, foul balls are more akin to out of bounds in football, the warning track being stopped on the 1 yard line. Basketball players put the ball in the net for 2 or 3 points. None of these compare to football’s scoring methods. Football players can score a multitude of ways, receiving, rushing, kicking and even defensively. In fact, basketball is the only other major team sport with different score values, but there still is only one method, putting the ball through the hoop.

No, comparisons to these other sports do not work. They are too different in design. Should basketball reward players with 2 points for forgoing a 3-point shot? The only sport the North American football codes can be compared to effectively is rugby due to their lineage. There the basis for the failure argument may be found to make sense.

Does the single point then reward failure then? The same way a field goal rewards failure to score a touchdown. If the single point awards defeat, then so does the field goal. Wouldn’t the game be better if all scoring plays were passing touchdowns? That’s how we used to play in the backyard. Eliminate kicking altogether, field goals, safeties and converts. Just seven points for a passing TD. Or make it one point since there is only one way to score, who needs point values. Then there is no failure, either you score and get a point or don’t and get nothing. It is fun for a pick up game, but it it would put football in the class of hockey or baseball. The differences between our sports is what makes them interesting so we shouldn’t be upset when they don’t all have 3 periods, nets, sticks and ice skates.

The Build on Arguments

With the foundational fact of singles reward failure assumed, the rest of the reasoning falls into place.

Nobody’s going to turn on TV and confuse the two interpretations of football if the single point goes away.

Yes, we can eliminate the single point because Canadian football has enough other unique attributes to set it apart. As soon as you make one change towards what is done south of the border, the next tweak will follow with the precedence set. The 5-yard rule on punt returns punishes defenders, let’s change it, oh, look see they use the fair catch down south. We still have the field size differences, 3 downs and the like. We’re still plenty different. And then the next change, and the next.

We should be proud of the game we developed and adopted and that it has survived to remain so different from our influential southern neighbour’s brand. Canadians are free to play American rules football if they desire and they do. There is no reason to Americanize our game. Instead of copying rules from the obvious influential brand, why not create our own unique rules if changes are necessary? Vigilance in protecting our game should be taken seriously for once it is gone, so is a part of our culture which continues the disconnect we have from our own roots and ancestors.

Yeah, but think of those exciting plays when a team hoofs the ball into the end zone in the waning seconds of a game and then the other team kicks it out and then the first team kicks it back in again and then ….

OK, so how many of those do you see every season?

Normally the opposite argument is made. Most single point opponents consider it a travesty a game could be won on a missed field goal or a long punt, what they consider a failure. But Radley’s point applies. How many times does this occur in a decade, let alone a season? Single points winning games on the last play is so rare to not cause any concern about the integrity of the sport but a nice enough vagary that I see no reason to eliminate it. The excitement it can create is much like pulling the goaltender at the end of the game. You have a chance, perhaps a slim one, but there is possibility with the right luck, skill and decision making it may work or be defended.

The Other Side

Rule changes are always proposed flippantly. I have never seen anyone proposing a rule change that outlines exactly what they are changing, why, and what will be eliminated and added to the game as a result. That is why you need caretakers of the game, rules committees and some sober second thought. Without it there would only be one version of professional football in North America, and that would be the American version, with all the attempts by individuals in Canada over the years to adopt the American rules in whole and in part.

  • Describing the rule as silly is an often used tact by CFL detractors. It is pure name calling. If there is any true silly, non-sensical rule, outline its failure in logic. Name calling with nothing substantial to back it up doesn’t win arguments.
  • Keeping the rouge around isn’t the work of incompetent fools or stubborn traditionalists. The creators of this game and its rules were not bent on protecting the sensitive egos of kickers. Rule changes, especially major ones, are not to be taken lightly on the basis of flippant statements. The facts and history need to be examined and perhaps tweaks made, not a gutting of a core piece of the game on a whim. Otherwise after a few years of “can we just change this” we end up with hockey or another sport.
  • This isn’t just a CFL problem. While the CFL can vote to adjust its rules, their doing so certainly has an affect on all levels playing Canadian football. While those bent on removing the single would like to see it gone everywhere, there is a greater responsibility when changing core rules like scoring.
  • Core changes are not something that should be tried for a season or two and reversed. There is an impact on the integrity of the record keeping and statistics. The league must be very sure of these rule changes before implementing for there is no going back.
  • When it comes down to it, there is no examples rouge abolitionists point to as evidence that the integrity of the game is affected. If we were to go back in history, take away all the points scored by singles and change the outcome of games, playoffs and Grey Cups there would be a lot of the detractors of single points up in arms if their teams lost a few titles. Both teams played by the rules in place and knew the scoring available to them. The fairness of those games was not affected because the single point was in the rule book.

Defining the Single

The single point, popularly known in the early days as the rouge from the French influence on the game, is defined in the rulebook as:

If the ball is kicked into the Goal Area by an opponent, a rouge is scored:

  • when the ball becomes dead in possession of a team in its own Goal Area or,
  • when the ball touches or crosses the Dead Line or a Sideline in Goal, and touches the ground, a player or some object beyond these lines.

NOTE: If during a kickoff, the kicked ball proceeds through the Goal Area and across the Dead Line or Sideline in Goal without being touched, there shall be no score and the ball shall be awarded to the receiving team at any point between the hash marks on its own 25-yard line.

The ways a single point can be scored then are:

Punting

  • punting the ball across the Sideline in Goal
  • punting the ball across the Dead Line
  • punting the ball in goal and it becomes dead in possession of receiving team in its own Goal Area

Field Goals

  • kicking the ball across the Sideline in Goal on a missed field goal attempt
  • kicking the ball across the Dead Line on a missed field goal attempt
  • kicking the ball in goal and it becomes dead in possession of receiving team in its own Goal Area on a missed field goal attempt

Kickoffs

  • kicking the ball in goal and it becomes dead in possession of receiving team in its own Goal Area
  • kicking the ball in goal, it is touched by the receiving team and then crosses the Dead Line or Sideline in Goal

Did I miss an edge case? Let me know.

The Inconsistencies

Is the current rule perfect? No, but what is. It has been in place in this form for more than 50 years, but it could use some tweaking to align it with the modern game.

First, as the goal in football is to move the ball towards the opponents goal line/dead line, why are single points awarded for the ball crossing the opponents sideline in goal? In the early history of the game it made sense as the rules were codified and kicking was much more prevalent. Today, it seems inconsistent with all other methods of scoring. If we eliminate scoring by kicking the ball across the opponents sideline in goal that will eliminate many punts kicked for the sidelines but go out of bounds in goal. That further makes the punters job clear, get it out of bounds between the goal line and 20 yard line or get nothing if out of bounds in goal and the opponents scrimmage at the 35 yard line. Punting the ball past the dead line or the opposition not returning the ball out of the goal area still results in a single point.

The same would apply to field goals, though the frequency of out the sideline in goal is rare on placekick attempts. The other single point methods remain. Put the ball over the dead line or the opposition not returning the ball results in a single.

For kickoffs, kicking the ball past the deadline without touching it results in no points and the opposition scrimmaging at their 25 yard line. Not advancing the ball out of the goal area or touching it before it crosses the sideline in goal or dead line results in a rouge. Kicking the ball across the sideline in the field of play results in a penalty. To be more consistent, the following is proposed:

  • no point is awarded for kicking the ball across the sideline in goal on a kickoff. Instead this results in the same penalty as kicking across the sideline in the field of play. In other words, a kickoff must remain in the field of play or goal area or cross the deadline, crossing the sideline results in a penalty.
  • a single point is scored for kicking the ball across the deadline on a kickoff, whether it was or was not touched prior to crossing. From the normal kickoff location, this is a score for a 95 yard kickoff, a very valid feat in my opinion.
  • a single point remains for the ball becoming dead in goal in possession of the receiving team on a kickoff.

Do I need these changes to be made? No. I’m happy with they way things are. These inconsistencies could be examined more closely to see if they logically improve the game and what impact they will have. If eliminating some methods of scoring a single point acts as a happy medium to those wishing to expunge them from the league, then that is a fair compromise. I think such changes, based on creating a ruleset that is consistent and logical rather than what we see on American television Sunday afternoons, are justified more than the elimination of a rule based on fictitious statements.

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In Defence of the Single was published on May 5, 2013 12:53 PM by dbo.

2,915 words.

This article is categorized under Game and tagged with rouge, rules and single-point.

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