2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 1 of 4

OMG – YES!

I CANNOT tell you how long I have waited for this week.

Some people wait for their wedding day.  Some people wait for graduation.  Some people wait for the birth of their first child.

Me?  I wait for CFL training camps to open.

It feels like my beloved CFL has been MIA for years.

Well, it’s felt like years.

I honestly gave up on the 2015 CFL season somewhere around Week 15.  I know this because the last bit I posted on this here blog was called “Week 15 – It All Falls Apart”.

But now I’m back.  And I’m feeling so very rejuvenated.

THANK YOU, CHRIS JONES!

jones

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

With CFL training camps opening this weekend, this week we’ll look back at the CFL’s offseason, which was certainly one of the more memorable ones in recent memory.

ROOKIE COMMISH

commissioner under fire.jpg

Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has been a man under fire as of late.  He was rarely seen or heard from during his first season as Commissioner of the CFL.  Granted, the previous Commissioner, was a hard act to follow; Cohon was the perfect combination of a big-time executive and a guy you’d like to have a beer with and watch a game.

Orridge?  He comes across as a little stiff.  And don’t forget that he’s AMERICAN.  Does that bother me?  Not so much.  But I will admit that I thought Orridge was a little too focused on creating the CFL’s new logo and marketing campaign – “What We’re Made Of” (the hashtag #WWMO drove me nuts for MONTHS before its reveal) – when there were bigger issues that deserved more attention.  Like officiating.

More on that below.

Let’s start with the new logo.  Why couldn’t it be a whole football?  Did it cost too much to add the ends?  More mind boggling to me, though, is that the maple leaf at the bottom is cut in half.  Who does that?  It’s like the printer ran out of red ink.  Or they just forgot to finish it.  Or maybe they ran out of red ink because it, too, cost too much.  Regardless, the league clearly did not test this out with its core fan base, because the reaction was swift and decidedly negative, which isn’t exactly what you want during GREY CUP WEEK:

Meanwhile in that same radio interview on Saturday, [Brian] Williams along with TSN Radio hosts Dave Naylor and Matt Sekeres all said they gave the new CFL logo a thumbs-down.  Naylor went so far as to say it’s unnecessary and I couldn’t agree more.

Is it too late to change it back?  I don’t think so.

There were plenty of branding and marketing experts – from other companies – in Winnipeg for Grey Cup Week and they scoffed at the new logo.  One said the style is en vogue now but it’ll be passe within two-to-three years.

You need a league logo that’s literally iconic, and can stand the test of time.  I don’t know, like say, the one we had up until Friday?  That one was introduced by former CFL Commissioner Michael Lysko over a decade ago and still looks fresh.

In my lifetime, the NFL and NHL have each had only ONE logo.  Meanwhile in the same time frame, the CFL has had three.

And, as far as the launch goes, reporters from across the country were Tweeting photos of the Investors Group Field endzones which still were emblazoned with the old logo as of Friday.  They were changed in time for Sunday’s game but I’ve gotta think that was a last-minute scramble because of the backlash.  And as of Sunday, the old logo was still featured prominently on CFL.ca.

The cherry on top was the coin toss at Sunday’s 103rd Grey Cup when Orridge was wearing a toque with the new CFL logo while head referee Al Bradbury was standing right beside him in a black referees cap featuring the old logo.

CLASSIC CFL INEPTITUDE!

Orridge didn’t help himself by his underwhelming performance in the annual State of the League address that followed.  While I think some of the critics were a bit too harsh – I mean, really, Terry Jones, did you expect the Commissioner to have an answer to the question of media access when it really hadn’t been much of an issue during the year? – he was good at avoiding answering questions, which more than likely frustrated the media in attendance and led to the less-than-stellar reviews.

But the fact remains that Orridge was MIA for most of the 2015 season.  The reporters nicknamed him ‘The Ghost’.  And his complete lack of response to the officiating issues, particularly at the beginning of the season, didn’t exactly help.  He’s going to need to be more visible this season in order to show that he understands the nuances of the CFL and truly is the man to bring the CFL to the next generation.

Does Orridge have a lot to learn?  Yes.  Were there some missteps in his first season?  Absolutely.  You know what, though?  As long as Orridge doesn’t start announcing plans for the CFL’s second expansion into the US, I think we’ll be okay.

COACHING CAROUSEL

hervey.png

Ed Hervey, GM of the Edmonton Eskimos, said it best:

As far as this league, we know that tampering does happen. It does. We do it. Everyone does it. It’s just a part of the CFL.

Ed’s honesty is refreshing, because Ed knows.  He signed DE Odell Willis a whole four minutes after free agency started in 2013, earning him and the Eskimos a $10,000 fine.

Pretty blatant tampering there.  Obvious, even.

During Grey Cup Week, the rumour mill swirled with rumblings that the Saskatchewan Roughriders were planning on going after then-Eskimos Head Coach Chris Jones once the offseason hit.  The rumours weren’t wrong, and in early December, Jones was announced as the Riders’ new Head Coach and GM.

This was followed by Jason Maas moving from the Ottawa REDBLACKS to the Eskimos as their Head Coach, prompting calls from the REDBLACKS for compensation, which were ultimately denied.

Then Montreal Alouettes’ Defensive Coordinator Noel Thorpe apparently resigned and was rumoured to be talking to the Eskimos about taking a similar position.

There’s always been an unwritten rule in the CFL that if a team wants to interview another team’s coach for a position that would result in a promotion, that coach is given permission to talk to said team.  Such a convention is good for the league as a whole; in a small league, it’s important to promote good coaches in order to entice them to stay north of the border.

But the REDBLACKS’ whining and calls for compensation turned what is a regular offseason occurrence in the CFL into a big flipping deal, leading to the Commissioner to polish off his Harvard law degree and lay down the law (so to speak):

Effective immediately, there will be a moratorium on any coaches’ movement from one Club to another Club, unless such transaction is expressly approved in writing by the Commissioner or his delegate, prior to the movement taking place.  This only applies to coaches who are currently under contract with a CFL Club.

Well, duh.  A contract is a contract; if you’re under contract, you generally shouldn’t breach that contract by joining another team.  That is, unless the team you’re employed by allows you to terminate your contract – in other words, the parties agree to mutually terminate the contract.  Mutual termination, though, is what happens for the vast majority of coaching moves in the CFL when a promotion is involved.  Orridge wasn’t exactly stating anything new in his moratorium.

Here’s one CFL executive, though, who clearly doesn’t understand what I just said:

Coaches better be careful because there are going to be major ramifications on this and there is unanimity that coaches’ movement needs a legitimate policy for those coaches under contract,” the executive said. “And that was before the latest issues with Maas and Thorpe. The Thorpe issue is an absolute joke. In the 80’s and 90’s we let football people run the business and drive the bus. Look what it got the league — almost killed it. Now we have professional operators and sophisticated owners who understand you don’t let the inmates run the asylum. Why do we have contracts at all? What would stop a coaching from quitting midseason and going to work for another team in the postseason? The whole thing is insanity.

Come on.  Do we really think a team would allow a coach to leave mid-season and jump ship to another team?  Has that happened lately?  NO.  But if it is possible, then it’s the contracts that are the problem, and teams need to look at their employment contracts and tighten them up.

But you didn’t come her for a lesson in contract law.  Suffice it to say that the CFL’s unwritten rule that a coach should be granted permission to speak to another team about a position that would result in a promotion has worked well for many years.  IMHO, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

YET MORE VIDEO REVIEW

jakey.jpg

I have railed against the CFL’s poor officiating and video review insanity for years.  Not satisfied, though, the CFL, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to add yet another replay official.

The CFL is adding a video official in the Command Centre with a mandate to rapidly fix obvious errors that are not challengeable by replay. This official would act as a kind of “eye in the sky” with access to a feed from a special camera that will capture all 24 players on the football field.

For example, when both the offence and defence jump into the neutral zone prior to the snap and four officials have flags, all with a slightly different perspective, the Video Official would look at a play in a few seconds and communicate to the Referee which team jumped first, speeding up the game and ensuring the right call is made.

SERIOUSLY?

To me, this is all but a full admission by the CFL that its officials aren’t up to the task and need help doing the job they’re paid to do.

And here’s the proof:

The CFL’s football operations department has reviewed video from last season and found more than 150 penalties that should not have been called. One way the CFL is looking at eliminating many of these errors is with the new video official, who would have access to all broadcast camera angles and the benefit of an all-24 view that shows every player on the field.

smile while you can.jpg

150 penalties that should not have been called.  

Let’s say 25 penalties are called per game.  There are four games per week, with 20 weeks in the season.  That’s 80 games and roughly 2,000 penalties.  This means that 8% of the penalty flags thrown by the officials should not have been thrown.

Yes – good job, guys.  Give yourselves a pat on the back.

Here’s the mandate of this new video review guy, whom I’m dubbing “The Fixer”:

The goal is to have the video referee participate within the flow of the game, leading to fewer wrong decisions on the field and a reduction of incorrect penalty calls.

The video review official would have the ability to instruct the on-field officials to pick up a flag if it’s clear no penalty should be administered. The video review official would also be involved in referee huddles and discussions when it is unclear what ruling should be applied.

An example would be a play where there is movement prior to the snap on both sides of the ball and multiple flags are thrown. If one referee sees offside while another sees illegal procedure, the video official could look at the play and immediately detect which movement came first. This would allow the on-field officials to get the call right and do it in a speedy fashion.

The video review official could also be used in penalty administration, helping to determine where a foul took place on the field and where is the proper spot to apply the penalty, to fix timing issues and boundary spotting when a loose or kicked ball goes out of bounds.

Here’s the main issue, though: What does the league mean when the ‘eye in the sky’ has a “mandate to rapidly fix obvious errors that are not challengeable by replay”?  Is this mysterious replay official going to be able to call penalties on his own?  Because let’s face it: the goal now is perfection.  

To further add to our video replay pain, more discretionary calls will now be challengeable; offensive pass interference, illegal contact and illegal interference on pass plays will now be reviewable.  Further, the list of penalties reviewable by a coach’s challenge now include: no yards called, illegal blocks on kick plays, contacting/roughing the kicker or passer, and illegal interference at the point of reception on kick off attempts.

I’m all for getting calls right; a team should not be penalized because an official made an obvious mistake.  But we’ve taken video review far beyond fixing the obvious, which was its original intention.  It was a complete mistake to allow discretionary calls to be reviewed by replay officials because such calls are MEANT to be discretionary.  The discretion is being taken away from the on-field officials, who see the play in real time, and being turned over to what is effectively an appeal court.  And the appeal court interferes more often than not.  This is not right. To use administrative law principles (ahem), discretionary calls should be subject to a standard of reasonableness: deference should be shown to the on-field officials’ decision unless it is unreasonable for the officials to have made the call.  Instead, more often than not, CFL Command Centre interferes, either by overturning or even making calls without providing any explanation as to why.

I could go on.  But again, you didn’t come here for an administrative law tutorial.

Let’s just say this: I have little faith in Glen Johnson and the CFL to properly set out the mandate of The Fixer.  They will continue to let video review run amok.  In other words:

OH JOY! MORE FLAGS!

DRUG TESTING

The league’s drug testing policy has been a joke, i.e. non-existent, for years.  In 2015, the league’s drug policy was famously (infamously?) denounced by the only Canadian laboratory certified by the World Anti-Doping Agency.  The league then ended its relationship with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which didn’t exactly put the league in the best light.

Thou dost protest too much, non, CFL?

However, since taking it on the chin from anti-doping advocates, the CFL and CFLPA collaborated and created a new drug policy that will be in place for the 2016 season.  Features of the new policy include:

  • Increasing the number of tests.  Previously, only 35% of players were tested every year.  Now, all players will be tested.
  • The CFL will now recognize doping sanctions enacted by the CIS, NCAA and NFL.
  • Players who test positive will receive a two game suspension for a first offence; a nine game suspension for a second violation; a one year suspension for a third offence; and a lifetime ban for a fourth violation.

The league has also re-established its relationship with the Canadian Association for Ethics in Sport.  (Imagine how THAT meeting went.)

The catch?  The policy still doesn’t fully comply with World Anti-Doping Agency standards.

But one step at a time, eh?

OUT OF THE DOME

It’s been a great couple of years for the league in terms of unveiling new stadiums.  After much ado, Hamilton’s Doughnut Box, aka Tim Hortons Field, is now filled to capacity each game.  The REDBLACKS’ TD Place Stadium is also full nearly every game.  Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field looks great on TV – just forget about all of the lawsuits being fought behind the scenes.  And BC Place was retrofitted with a retractable roof, making me jealous that the Riders’ new digs won’t have the same thing.

Now it’s the Argos’ turn.  After years of playing in cavernous Rogers Centre, and being completely screwed around by Rogers at every turn, the Argos have moved outdoors to BMO Field.

BMO.jpg

The Argos are also officially under new management, and for the first time in decades, the Argos actually have owners who care about: (a) having a good football team; (b) providing fans with a great fan experience; and, most importantly (c) HAVING FANS.  And the fact that they care about each of these things all at once is shown in the Argos’ new marketing campaign that finally makes the Argos look like a professional football team instead of the weak brother of the other pro sports teams in town:

argos.png

Here’s to hoping BMO Field looks like this all season long:

new beginnings

NEXT WEEK: We’ll take a look at the East Division teams.

Advertisements

One thought on “2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 1 of 4

  1. Great comments. It’s refreshing to read insightful assessments of important league issues – ahead of the game day banter. Keep up the great work. And why aren’t the sports channels and websites picking this up? In my opinion, they should. This commentary deserves a broad audience! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s