changes in Officiating coming?

A quick look in the rearview mirror at the 2013 CFL season and we see a year that the league head offices can use as a springboard to an even bigger and better future, with the exception of one pressing question that just doesn't seem to ever go away: How will the league improve the officiating?

After a very successful expansion draft in December, the Ottawa Redblacks will kick it off for real in a brand new facility this season. Hamilton will also be playing in a new stadium this year, and the Bombers Investors Group Field still has that new stadium smell.

Jon Cornish, who won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's top male athlete of the year, headlines a group of Canadian football players in the CFL that continue to get better and are proving that Canadians are, not only capable of playing the skilled positions, but can be impact players.

Young quarterbacks excelled in 2013 and showed football fans across the country that the future is bright at the most important position on the field.

And, discussions regarding a tenth franchise in the Maritimes has moved from the "dream stage" to the "serious talks" stage with the signing of a new, game-changing television agreement with TSN.

There is no question the future looks bright for the CFL, with one issue yet to be tackled. Ask the average football fan in our country what is the one area that the league must improve on moving forward and they will say officiating ninety-nine per cent of the time.

Now, inconsistencies with the refs is not a problem unique to the CFL, as evidence by some of the recent games in the NFL, and it is not unique to the sport of football. However, in a world where perception is reality, the perception for most of the fans is that officiating is lagging behind in the Canadian Football League and it needs to improve.

Interestingly enough, the league office has a plan. It is in its infancy and has not been talked about very much but the blueprint to improving this area of the game is being drafted right now.

Prior to the end of the 2013 calendar year, the league quietly made a change at the top with regards to officials. Head of officiating, Tom Higgins, was not offered a contract extension and just a few days later the league announced the hiring of veteran head referee, Glen Johnson. Higgins should be proud of his time in the big chair, despite the perception that officiating is the CFL's weak link. The highlights of his tenure included streamlining the command centre, improving the use of technology as a learning tool and maybe most importantly, opening a line of communication between the league's head office and its coaches, players and partners.

However, in this performance-based business, where if you're not moving forward and improving you are moving backwards, it seemed that when it came to officiating, the CFL was in a holding pattern.

Enter Glen Johnson, a veteran of twenty four years as a head ref, who has been in the trenches in 416 games and 11 Grey Cups. Johnson has also been on the leagues rules committee for more than ten years, so he is very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of that process.

Obviously, Johnson is not new to the CFL. However, he does have a new role and if it is true about the value of first impressions, then the league is in very good hands as they move forward in the area of officiating. In a recent phone conversation, Johnson wanted to emphasis that he is still moving into his new office and his game plan is in the first draft stage, but immediately stated that, "there are three areas that I would like to work on." He also wanted to make it clear off the top that all discussions would of course include the CFL Officials Association, the CFL Players Association, and the board of governors, because changes cannot be made without their input and cooperation.

First on Johnson's, to do list was improving consistency. He stated, "despite the perception, the leagues officials do a very good job but it is very important to improve the consistency from one game to another and one crew to another." He admitted that is not exactly a news flash, but went on to explain just how he would want to attack the issue of inconsistency.

First, once the standards are agreed upon, it is incumbent on the league office to make sure everyone is, as he put it, "speaking the same language." In other words, to be consistent there has to be consistency in the message. Johnson stated, "the language used to instruct our officials has to be the same language we use when explaining those rules to coaches, players and the fans of the game."

Johnson, who has spent the last twenty-seven years as a technology executive, also thinks that the league can continue to use technology not only as a teaching tool but also as a way of communicating with fans, and would like to see greater transparency in the process. Johnson explained, "if we are all speaking the same language, then there will be an overall better understanding as to how rules are assessed and applied."

The second item on the agenda for Johnson is to look at ways to expand replay. As he put it, "we need to continue to protect the integrity of the game, but maybe it is time to become innovators and further examine all aspects of the command centre."

Johnson will meet with the heads of officiating in the NHL, NFL and MLB in early February to go over ways to improve upon the use of instant replay. He also mentioned that he would like to initiate the discussions on all things replay, including how and when coaches can challenge a call on the field and to even examine, and possibly expand, the plays that can be challenged. That could include, again in a very preliminary way, talks on pass interference and whether or not that penalty could be a play that could be reviewed. Johnson understands the frustration when it comes to this penalty and isn't making any guarantees that drastic changes are on their way, but said that on the agenda is, "how we get better at that rule." He wanted to be clear that the goal is not to take what is a judgment call out of the hands of one individual and put it in the hands of another, but that maybe there are other ways to look at this penalty. He suggested that he would like to explore the possibilities of using technology within the stadium to assist the refs on the field when it comes to the game changing PI call.

Finally, he referenced again the fact that professional football is a performance based business for everyone involved including the officials, and wants to make his third priority making sure that week in and week out the best refs available are on the field.

He explained by saying, "that means evaluating how the league recruits its officials, develops them, and how they evaluate them." Johnson feels that it may be time for a shift in thinking in the area of officiating that moves closer to how a team GMs or coach evaluates a player, saying, "We need to start thinking more like the clubs, when it comes to recognizing and evaluating talent." He went on to say that he is looking for new and innovative ways to create opportunities for the refs to actually practice. "It's hard for a ref to practice, we train them and prepare them, but we can't actually evaluate their talent level until they are actually in games." An interesting point when you consider a coach evaluates a player from the moment, he hits the first practice at training camp to game one of the regular season, which is a lot of plays at close to game speed to see if the athlete has what it takes. In comparison, new officials get a couple of preseason games at best.

If you read between the lines, it sounds like the new head of officiating wants to see refs working in practice with the teams on a regular basis, which is again an excellent idea. As an example, the Argos' run and passing skeleton 8-on-8 drill in practice with real officials on the field looking for and calling offensive and defensive pass interference. The players work on their game and so do the refs. It would also allow players to better understand where the boundaries are long before they cost their team by taking a bad penalty in a real game.

The call was made to Glen Johnson before 2013 was officially in the books, and his three point priority list was already being formulated. He couldn't give a lot of details before meeting with all the groups involved in the process but didn't hesitate to outline his three points of focus.

Put together a game plan so that the league can find more consistency from game to game and crew to crew. Take a good hard look and become innovators when it comes to instant replay and the command centre. And make sure that the best talent available is always on the field.

The officials, like the players, coaches and the colour analysts in the game, will never be perfect. As long as human beings are involved, there is going to be human error which fans understand. However, as the CFL sling shots into the future with improved play on the field and a much better business model off the field, fans have to also see that there is a plan in place to improve the area of the game that is the number one topic of discussion every year - officiating.

It's early in the process and a lot of work has got to be done but after a conversation in late December with Glen Johnson, it sounds like there is a new and "innovative" game plan being formulated as we speak.

I've been asking for that. Whatever the foul is if Command center sees it, just call it down to the Head Official. A foul is a foul is a foul...

The issue with command centre is it does definitely slow down the play of the game, if we have to review every call the officials make. Perhaps it should be reviewed on major defining plays; but than what defines a major play? I like the idea that the ref's will be able to see the plays themselves but maybe not need to involve command centre. Allow the same ref who seen the call review their own call; if they say "Well I missed that! They can than reverse their own call" that would be great, but really the pace of the game is already slow when watching live. There are so many pauses in game play for reffing as well as it seems commercials for TV lol

There is no mention, but I hope this means some of the referees are closely reviewed and especially the dismissal of Murray Clarke, he is absolutely the worst.

I think if the officials want to review something they can relay that to TSN who can go to a commercial break. They won't mind it. They don't really care when a commercial airs during a live event as long as they get aired.

Not likely IMO. Though people are starting to complain I don't think this is even a blip on the CFL's radar.

I hope this isn't all talk and no action, but maybe a HC should be allowed one or two penalty reviews per game and as Halifax has said TSN could go to commercial break while they reviewed it.
I guess PI is the one penalty that seems to raise the most controversy and maybe that would the one that should be reviewable. But only one or two per game. The calls that bug me the most are the calls on kick returns that are very borderline.
Don't have a problem with "roughing the QB" calls. They should be protected at all costs. Offensive Line holding? A lot of inconsistent calls there. Lining up off side calls because a helmet is sticking out a few inches is stupid.
But Good Luck Glen you have a no win job. :slight_smile:

The problem with challenges is the time it takes for the ref to jog over to the bench, confer with the coach, then jog back out to centre field to announce the challenge. This process takes as long as the actual challenge does. The league could speed up by having the refs and coaches wired so they can communicate with each other more quickly...getting the Command Centre involved more quickly rather than long delays in getting the process started.

CFL teams bring in American players to improve the quality of play, perhaps they should do the same with refs? I know during American expansion in the 90's the league used many American officials who did a good job. There are probably thousands of experienced football officials in the U.S. who would love to work in the pros. Of course they would need training to learn the Canadian game (with perhaps working one season in the CIS or as reserve officials in the CFL). I believe there is a vast resource of competent officials who are available in the U.S.

I watched the 49s vs Packers this week (just miss watching football, not a normal thing watching NFL) and realized about 2/3 thru the 2nd quarter that there had been no penalties called yet. The announcers kept saying "they're letting them play".

It was SO refreshing !!

So many games (talking CFL now) get bogged down with so many penalties.

[url=] ... refereeing[/url]

You know how it often looks like a receiver is offside by about half a mile in a CFL game, yet there’s no call?

It’s been one of my pet peeves for years, along with the clock running during conversion attempts and bad press box hot dogs.

It got the the point where I believed the refs actually allowed receivers a yard of leeway before tossing the hanky.

After what I saw on Wednesday, chances are those receivers aren’t offside at all.

The CFL’s vice-president of whistle-blowers, Glen Johnson, blew through town, primarily to give the Blue Bomber coaching staff an idea of how games would be called and interpreted this season, including a handful of proposed new rules.

But in a bold new initiative worth gobs of good P.R., Johnson also met with the local media, the latest step in a transparency effort that began under his predecessor, Tom Higgins, now head coach in Montreal.

The presentation included a film of what looked like offside plays in real time.

But when you slowed them down, it was clear they weren’t offside at all.

It was an optical illusion, of sorts, created by the receiver’s momentum and the fact you can’t watch the player and the ball at the same time.

Unless you’re the line-of-scrimmage official, who does just that, peering from the sideline through the legs of the moving receiver to see if the ball has been snapped.

Like I always say, you can learn something every day in this business, if you’re paying attention.

So I’ll give the stripes a break next time.

Johnson isn’t expecting fans to lay off the “ref you suck? chants anytime soon.

But he’s hoping these new lines of communication, combined with better quality and consistency, will at least help the paying fanatic calm down a little more quickly.

“People may still disagree with us — which is fine,? Johnson said. “That’s why they’re fans, and we love them. But at least they’ll have a better understanding as to why we’re doing what we’re doing.?

Among the things the CFL is doing to improve officiating:

—evaluating every official’s performance more quickly, and rewarding the better ones with more games.

—try to avoid complacency by moving away from intact crews.

—include feedback from coaches.

—find ways to “practice,? such as attending and calling team practices.

“I hope they (fans) see we’re creating a greater consistency,? Johnson said. “That the standard between officials is closer. That the players and coaches understand those standards and that they’re playing to them better.?

Which brings us to the most contentious change, potentially, of the coming season.

Among the rule proposals going to a vote by CFL governors next Thursday is a plan to allow coaches to challenge pass interference calls — and plays they think should have been called interference.

It’s a bold move, one that’s never made it past the discussion stage south of the border.

“It’s a very tough call. It’s very subjective,? Johnson said. “When it ultimately gets to a booth in Toronto with an official who’s got another opinion, we’re wondering if there will be some challenge around the consistency. We’re hoping we can overcome that.

“If we can fix one or two of these that have game-impacting outcomes, we’ve improved the integrity of the game.?

That’s really the point of this entire exercise.

The CFL is no longer a mom-and-pop operation, and it shouldn’t settle for mom-and-pop refereeing.

Officials have gone from part-time employees earning chump change to part-time employees getting “meaningful? game cheques, Johnson says, similar to what their NFL counterparts earn.

“None of this should be based on the fact we think our guys did a terrible job,? he said. “Our guys do a great job... we do a very comparable job to other pro sports.

“But there’s always room for improvement.?

I still say subjecting pass interference to video review is opening a can of smelly worms.

But, as I found out, I’ve been wrong before.

No surprise here at all, as I've done just that, watching many of the most "obvious" offside non-calls frame-by-frame, and only once have I found one where the receiver was over the line, and then only by a few inches. What they do occasionally miss is when the slotback or runningback is hitting the line within five yards of the offensive tackle. In that case, they are supposed to be at least a yard back from the line of scrimmage.

Interesting that they're considering moving away from set crews of officials. I think it's a good idea, but it does have its downsides. There may not have been consistency between crews, but at least there was consistency between games by each crew. I expect that the players and coaches knew what to expect from each crew, what they could and could not get away with, going into each game. Not sure that'll be the case anymore. Add the video review official to that team of officials, and the consistency on PI calls disappears completely. On the flip side, if the players don't know what they can get away with game to game and play to play, maybe they'll stop trying to get away with stuff and just play within the rules.

I really like the idea of officials getting more practice by calling team practices, but I'm not sure how they'll get some officials to take off even more time from their regular jobs for relatively very little compensation.

the article mentions officials now receive similar pay to those in the NFL.

I missed that. I thought the NFL officials were being paid more that CFL officials. Still, compared to the income some officials earn in their "real" jobs, and the number of days they're already taking off to work games, I don't think many officials will be eager to take another four weeks or so of vacation / unpaid days off (assuming one more day per week of the pre-season, season, and playoffs) to attend team practices. I could be wrong.

Also saw this article.

Some points I thought interesting:

[Glen Johnson] said those who perform the best on the field will work the most, and the evaluation won't just include the usual crop of retired officials but will also include selected groups of coaches asked to provide feedback.

Others [rule changes] are designed to improve game flow, such as not stopping to allow defensive substitutions if there are no offensive substitutions.

Many quarterbacks in the league also may be happy with a proposal to allow them to use their own team's balls.

"Were going to allow quarterbacks to condition and use their own footballs. . . They'll be league-supplied footballs that they can condition, practice with during the week then they can bring them to the game and, as long as they meet a new ball standard, that quarterback can use his own balls during the game."

There will also be stricter curbs on taunting and objectionable conduct, including the verbal abuse of officials.

Besides making pass interference subject to coaches challenge and review, there will be automatic reviews of all turnovers.

Johnson says [pass interference is] one of the hardest calls for an official to make, given that they're often far away from the spot where the play is being made and their view is sometimes blocked.

This is simply not true. CFL guys get roughly 1/6 of their NFL counterparts.

And the suggestion that US College refs would come to Canada to work in the CFL ignores how different the rules are in each game and how little the American guys would care about working in the CFL. In fact, in most cases they would make more working major US College than the CFL guys do working CFL games.

Good concept, but I expect the CFL would be worried about breaking up the flow of the game. Besides, I can just hear the "you reviewed THEIR fumble" cries from fans across the country. I would encourage officials to "campfire", for NCIS fans, more often if any of them have a strong doubt about a call

Would you happen to know the salary breakdowns for CFL officials. I heard their pay will be increasing soon which can only help to improve the quality of officiating overall. Maybe one day soon we will see CFL officials become full-time like they are in other leagues

I would rather see illegal hit calls on the QB reviewed than turnovers if extra command center reviews are going to be made. They are so inconsistent as they are bang bang plays. My concern is that we are going to see a pile more plays ruled a turnover. If you are a ref and it is even close…throw that flag, we can just take a lil timeout and go upstairs.

It seems like everyone in the CFL is getting paid except for the players.

the CFL refs get under a grand per game reffed...they topped out at a max of 900 a couple years back, and less experienced guys as low as 600. So if you did 16 games, which would be fairly high, you could almost hit 15k if you were a senior ref. Travel and such are paid, but the bugger is that they often dont know when they will ref where until a day or 2 in advance, though that has apparently improved a little.

NFL refs average salary is 173 000, and will go up by over 30k by 2019. Starting salary in 2014 will be pushing 80K per season. A fair chunk of change no matter how you look at it, but these are full time jobs, not just game day appearances and the odd meeting like the CFL. They work a full week.

There is no comparison. CFL refs are perhaps the most passionate people around the game...they are not doing this as a primary living.

What I don`t understand is why are the guys in the play by play booth able to immediately know the correct call and even be able to spot blown calls immediately. I think all calls should be reviewed immediately after each play... If the guys in the booth can do it, then maybe their tecnology is far superior to judge calls on the fly. I would think it would be a good gimick at the very least, if not a revolutionary idea to have a ref in the booth sitting right in between the play by play guy and the colour commentator. He could review each and every single play on the fly just like the play by play team does and then would have a giant gong button when something was clearly off. He would have the final say on all calls and could overturn everything. He could overturn phantom PI calls and bogus no yards calls when the offending player was slightly encroaching, but clearly in a full back peddle. He could then explain to the 800K at home each decision he made. Removing officals from the field of play would offset any added costs of employing the bionic ref in the booth.
I honestly see a day soon, where refs are almost completely removed from the field. Watching MLB, it is very clear that soon there will not be umps on the field. In the CFL basicly all that is needed is the guy who places the ball... Even the guys running across the field with chains will soon be a thing of the past. The CFL should be proactive and get ahead of the curve not just copy the NFL when these changes eventually come.