The Why of Flags that Fly

Published on August 23, 2014 2:47 PM by dbo.

It took the new kids on the block to actually look into the reasons for increased penalties in the CFL this year. A lot of complaining about how it is affecting the game, requests that fewer penalties be called and worries that instead of a missed pass interference call affecting the playoffs or Grey Cup, it will be a blown pass interference reviewed call (!). With no patience and an expectation of perfection, the CFL officiating takes it on the chin again implementing the consistency that has been demanded.

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Gord Holder investigated the increase in flags in 2014. He talks to Glen Johnson, CFL‘s Director of Officiating, analyzes the numbers relating to expansion years, and gets to some of the changes implemented this season that impact penalty calls. He develops a potential multi-faceted theory for the increase, while others have placed all the blame on the officiating crews.

Where have the rest of the beat reporters on this story? Complaining about the number of penalties and asking for officials to call less (and sure, defending the officials and pass interference review). Start making judgement calls about whether a penalty affects the outcome (of the play? of the game?) and don’t call the “chintzy” penalties. I’ve watched almost all the games this year, and I would classify perhaps 1 per game as a chintzy penalty that had no impact on the outcome of the play. To eliminate that penalty, you will put judgement into the officials hands, what people have been demanding be taken out of their hands?

Rather than try to bring the balance to the level naturally over time, keep tinkering to get there faster. This will only continue the cycle of too many calls being made to right calls are not being made. Instead, let time bring things in balance as players learn the new standards and coaches coach to it. It may take a whole season to get there, but the result will be the consistent standard fans have been demanding. When you want to enact change of this type, you can’t expect penalties to drop after one week of the new standards.


Where have the broadcast partners been in this? As I linked to before, whining (Schultz, Forde, Suitor) but not explaining, teaching, or championing the changes or standards. When standards change, communication to the fans must occur and the message must be positive. Keeping an arms length from the league on this front makes no sense. The fan growth the CFL has seen and where they will continue to get growth from are young people, not exposed to Canadian Football and learning the game. They are only exposed to complaints and comments that CFL is bad, too many flags, and they go away with that belief. People around them explain the rules wrong. TSN likes to analyze plays, but never explains the rules. To attract new fans, TSN’s goal, the game must be accessible and digestible. For all fans, old and new, the message of how the new standards will bring the consistency requested to officiating must be repeated game in and game out.

Pass Interference Reviews

As for complaints about pass interference reviews, whether because they slow down the game or perceived inconsistency in the reviews, that is the result of unachievable expectations. Even when a call, no matter they type, but including pass interference, goes to video review it is reviewed by a human being. Interpretation of the rules (which can’t define every situation), camera angles, and multiple command centre officials will result in differences. While a standard can be set, the differences will crop up in the close calls, which many play reviews are. In the end you are dealing with human beings, and to demand no difference in opinion between individuals and days of the week is unrealistic.

This is why I advocate significant rules change being trialled before being implemented. Implement in the pre-season and shadow during the regular season to review select plays (perhaps submitted by GM’s) by different central command officials. Determine the constancy in review results, the number of calls overturned, average delay a review causes, etc. so the details of the implementation can be worked out and it can be determined if it is worth it.

To fix the current implementation, I would go back to the purpose of the rule, which is to eliminate the game changing missed call. To encourage it be used for those obvious misses, big plays and end of game scenarios, allow only one pass interference challenge per game, and make it have a cost of 2 challenges. This doesn’t change anything with the actually review, but should reduce the number of pass interference challenges they have to review that are borderline. Coaches will have to get used to the call on the field for 10 yard crossing patterns.


In the end, the new standards have set the CFL towards an improved level of officiating. The new standards, expansion, expanded rosters and player turnover will eventually be worked out and flag levels will be reduced. I, for one, applaud the objectionable conduct penalties in an effort to clean-up the game. Over time, players will learn what is acceptable or be gone. However, the game is still called by humans, who are at field level (the biggest oversight of fans with an elevated viewing angle), have to be aware of players flying around them, have one view point, can’t be looking everyone at once, and a split second to make a decision. They cannot be expected to deliver the consistency and perfection of a video game. Get used to it and enjoy the game.


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The Why of Flags that Fly was published on August 23, 2014 2:47 PM by dbo.

968 words.

This article is categorized under Game and tagged with officiating and video-replay.

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