On Officiating

Published on June 3, 2013 8:16 PM by dbo.

That there is an officiating problem in the CFL seems to be the consensus. Not in the sense that every sports league has an officiating problem according to the fans. For the CFL there is that base, but a larger feeling of inadequacy on top of it. It is Canadian football, the poor cousin, the minor league, so therefore the officiating must be the worst there is. Those that insist that it is true (including CFL fans) are the typical Canadian masochists, gratified in their suffering as not worthy Canadians — too small, too polite, too dumb, too poor.

Some of the reasoning behind the feeling is that the compensation for officials is not enough to attract the highest quality people to the profession. The really good officials stay at home because it is not worth their while to commit their time to suffer abuse for the reward offered. Except there is absolutely no evidence of this. Like many activities, people do it for the love, not the money. Coming through the ranks of football, the most qualified and respected individuals make it to the professional level. The nature of officiating, the abuse, the giving up of ones allegiances and being a fan excludes most from taking it up, even though many say “I could do that better”. It is a small pool to pull from, and the most professional and dedicated rise to the top.

The solution offered as so obvious they can’t believe it hasn’t been done is to make officials full time, followed by increasing their compensation, perhaps by double or more. Immediately the quality of officiating is promised to rise. No explanation of how this will occur or how it will be measured is offered, but we are to be sure that it is the only solution. It may only be that an increase in compensation will allow them to feel better about the quality of officiating, because better always costs more.

In theory, let us say we double or triple the compensation for officials at all positions. Will there be brand new crews ready to officiate CFL games this year or next? No, the same crews will be there, with the same changes that would have occurred anyway. In five or ten years? Doubtful. Officiating has such a unique, demanding skill set teenagers are not going to set themselves on a officiating career path because it meets their monetary goals.

If we say, in theory, the increase does bring a whole raft of new officials immediately, what will they be like? They have no professional football experience, can we expect them to be better than those they replaced just because they are paid more? Will their reaction times be better, their positioning, their knowledge of the rulebook? Even if they take time to work their way through the ranks as always has been the case, what makes them more qualified than what we have today? An official only motivated by money is not as good as one who does it for the love in my opinion.

What about making them full time? People often act in incredulously surprise when they find out CFL officials are not full time. When the suggestion is made they should be made full time, it is not explained what that means. Full time during the season, or full time year long?

Officiating crews will range in age and experience, but there are many who are in senior roles in their careers or hold occupations such as lawyers. Providing full time compensation during the season and expecting their full time commitment is not going to happen, they cannot get six months off from their jobs or businesses. Most will not want to give up their full time positions for a full time year round officiating position either. Then there is the expense of this for the league. To get any to accept full-time officiating positions, it will have to be at the same wage they are receiving from their civilian positions (which would actually equal a pay cut, since they would be out the bonus officiating salaries they receive today). That would increase their officiating cost by 10 to 20 times their current budget. Perhaps they just want the officials to receive full-time pay but continue their current part time hours. A way of paying officials to take the abuse they receive without feeling guilty I guess.

Again, for analysis sake, lets assume the current crews jump at this chance and the CFL finds the budget to bring them on full time. How does this change anything? As full time employees you may state, they can train and study more, making them better officials. That is good in theory, but what are they going to accomplish in that extra six months of the year except get bored? During the season, they are only needed one game a week, with travel maybe a couple day commitment. Football is not like hockey or baseball with continuous games, allowing for full-time work for referees and umpires over 10 month seasons. The CFL‘s schedule does not allow for more than one game a week for four officiating crews for six months of the year.

So what will improve the officiating? Maybe it doesn’t need drastic improvement at all. It is time to quit reflecting the absolutes of the video game generation on the real world. Since the beginning of sports, it has been governed by human officials, who make mistakes, who can possibly be looking everywhere at once, who must see a multitude of action in a split second from the heart of it. They do an excellent job. Like the players and game have improved and evolved over time, so have the officials and there is no doubt todays officials are better than previous generations. We can expect this to continue to improve naturally with analysis and repetition, not by the size of the paycheque. Unless you want to see the game destroyed and officiated from a video camera and the humanity factor removed from the game (except for now there is still a person assessing what is on the screen). Humans do what they can but they will never get better at remembering what the assailant was wearing when they saw them for that split second. How can we expect more from officials on the field? There is a limit to human capability to view and process information.


Training and review of officials is something relatively new to the game and has shown that it brings more consistency to calls than any other change. There is also more interest from coaches and teams to learn from officials what is and is not allowed. In most sports I would guess the vast majority of players have not read the rule book once, let alone have it memorized. This is no different in the CFL. Player understanding of the actual rules as written helps put everyone on the same page versus the knowledge of having rules explained to you in general terms, often using comparisons to American rules which are not likely worded the same although the rules may be similar.


One major incident from two seasons ago will of course be brought up in any conversation with a knowledgable fan about officiating. There is no arguing the bad call. I do argue the motivation many attribute to the call; it showed the officials bias against Winnipeg, against Montreal, he is evil, he is incompetent. It is always easy to attribute malice to someone you don’t know, we question the actions of strangers and jump to the conclusion they are out to get us. In this case we won’t know the person’s thinking, but it is more logical to think he fell for the tactics just like a defender might bite on a QB’s pump fake. It is an honest mistake that warrants a demotion to work on those skills, but not a public pillaring or ban from football. The positive thing that came out of this compared to years ago is the situation was not defended, but dealt with and the Director of Officiating also admitted his mistakes in the matter. Perhaps this honesty in assessing their performance contributes to the fans lack of respect for them, but I prefer it over the officials are infallible, no discussion, an attitude found in other sports.

Bad calls spawn articles about the bad officiating, the black marks, the sky is falling editorials which help create the perception that CFL officials are the worst ever. Except for any other game when the media do not make claims of bad officiating, they don’t include a comment that the officiating was sufficient or excellent today to balance out the reporting. When all anyone reads is how bad it is, even infrequently, that forms their opinion. That is why I discount any commenter, forum poster or person who makes absolute claims about how bad the officiating is with no evidence, examples or measurable items to at least have an argument. I’m supposed to believe that they, a passionate fan, have more knowledge and less bias than the people on the field. If they are going to make claims that it is worse than it used to be, they better have something to back it up. It is not black and white, it is a conditional assessment with many factors and they present no reason that their opinion should be trusted over any others.


I am not against increasing the game compensation for CFL officials. I’m sure they will negotiate something fair in their next bargaining period with the league. I do not see how massive pay increases or full time officials will improve the quality of officiating, though. The CFL will remain open to criticism if they don’t make officials full time, even though there is no evidence it will have any benefit. Maybe we just need to give up on the belief that CFL officiating is inferior because it is the CFL and just treat it like officiating in any other league. They are human, it is just a game and that is how life goes.


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On Officiating was published on June 3, 2013 8:16 PM by dbo.

1,742 words.

This article is categorized under League and tagged with officiating and referees.

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