METRO VANCOUVER - Glen Johnson, the Canadian Football League’s new head of officiating, clearly recalls how he felt when video review became part of the league for the 2006 season. He couldn’t wrap his arms around it. Coaches could now challenge his work? Yuck.
“I was quite leery about it,” Johnson admitted. “In the very first game with review, I had to change one of my calls, which was a bizarre experience as an official. It’s incredibly uncomfortable when your job is to make a call and there is a belief that you’ve got it correct.”
Johnson has come around, of course, and so have many sports which now readily use video review to get it right. The CFL then took another step last week when it adopted a rule allowing coaches to challenge a pass interference call, or non-call. Coaches will even be allowed to do so in the final three minutes of a game when normally only the CFL’s command centre reviews plays.
“Now we embrace replay,” said Johnson, who was in Surrey debriefing the B.C. Lions’ coaching staff Monday on the league’s new rules for 2014. “The last thing we want as an official is to make a bad call that impacts the outcome of the game and have to live with it all winter. That’s a bad experience. So if we can use replay to fix that, improve the outcome and integrity of the game, and maintain the sanity of the officials at the same time, it’s a good thing.”
The new pass interference challenge – it’s applicable only to defensive plays, not an offensive player trying to prevent an interception – arose from the league’s rules committee meetings. According to Johnson, some teams wanted the ability to challenge every penalty.
“So we went through a process and said: ‘Well, if we were to start with one, where would we start?’ and we took the one that had the greatest impact in terms of yardage,” explained Johnson, a 24-year CFL veteran. “As well, we combined the data with the one penalty that we have the most difficulty getting correct – and that’s when defensive pass interference rose to the top.
“It’s really the next evolution of replay. We’ve got most of the ones that include catch-it-or-not, did-they-break-the-plane-or-not, so the next was penalties. I’m glad the rules committee chose only one to start. But, no, I don’t know where it will end."
Lions head coach Mike Benevides feels it should end with defensive pass interference, although he offered this opinion in a reflective moment Monday and not in the heat of a playoff battle.
“I think there definitely has to be limitations,” he said. “I don’t think you could do it with everything under the sun. I think there a lot of things that will always be judgment calls and I think it’s incorrect do it any further than that.”
Defensive pass interference, he noted, can sometimes be a 50 or 60-yard penalty while most other transgressions are 15 yards or less.
“When the discussion came up, I was very much a proponent of a challenge for defensive pass interference and the reason is that it is has a huge impact on the game,” Coach Benny said. “If you have an opportunity to make it right, why not? Whether it’s the league, the officials, the players or ourselves, we’re all trying to get the play correct. I mean, those defensive pass interference penalties are huge, game-changing plays.
“I commend the officials and the CFL for understanding that: ‘Hey, you know what? If a ball is thrown 70 yards down the field to the goal-line, (maybe) I can’t get the right viewpoint, or I may have missed it, or I maybe called something that I didn’t see from the other side.’ Right from the beginning, when I heard about this, I thought it was a good thing. It gives the coaches another tool.”
GRID BITS: According to Johnson, replay challenges have declined from 108 to 86 to 62 in the last three seasons… The CFL draft goes Tuesday at 4 p.m. Barring a trade, the Lions will pick fifth in the first round.
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