Rule Disparity & Player Safety: an Open Letter

Dear Caretaker, CFL BOG, and Commissioner,

Our new commissioner touts himself as a champion of player safety. This is an excellent and progressive stance for the head of the league to take and is widely supported. It also presents an opportunity to bring something into the public eye that has been over looked by the Board of Governors and the CFL Rules Committee for quite some time.

There is a glaring disparity between what is acceptable for an offensive or “team A? player, and what is allowed for a defensive or “team B? player, and can put the defender at unnecessary risk for serious injury because of the way the rules have been written and are enforced. There is in fact a special exception and consideration for the ball carrier specifically and for offensive players in general.

Contacting the head of another player is considered a dangerous play. There are two very specific rules that reinforce that the league feels that this is true and needs to be limited if not taken completely out of the game. Those rules are “Face Masking? an unnecessary roughness penalty, and “Hands to the Face? an illegal block. These plays are penalties because they can be the catalyst for forceful or even violent impacts or contortions that needlessly expose athletes to the potential of head and neck injuries.

We all understand the importance of protecting players from a play that can cause catastrophic injury, but the rule as it is used now allows an exception that continues to expose players to this risk by allowing the ball carrier to block, impede, and even redirect another players body and movement by the head and facemask. This is not only counter to the philosophy of promoting player safety, but also gives the ball carrier an advantage no other player has.

To clearly illustrate the disparity, here are Facemasking and Hands to the Face side by side for comparison and images of these actions during a CFL game:

Article 3 – Unnecessary Roughness
A player shall be penalized for any act of unnecessary roughness against an
opponent, including but not limited to:
(e) Grasping an opponent’s face guard,
h) Contacting an opponent above the shoulders in an unnecessarily rough
manner, including the long snapper on kicks from scrimmage and convert

Article 4 – Illegal Block-Hands To The Face
No player of either team may thrust his hands forward above the frame to contact
the opponent on the neck, face, head or facemask. [u]This does not apply to a ball
carrier using a “stiff arm? or “straight arm? tactic where there is no grasping of the
face mask.

So why is it not considered a dangerous play when the ball carrier contacts another player above the shoulders and uses the neck / head / face / helmet / facemask to forcefully direct the tacklers body, when we can see that if at any point any of the remaining 23 players on the field use the same tactic their team is penalized for what is considered dangerous, unnecessary, and unfair?

(a typical “straight arm? move by a ball carrier)

(facemasking by a defender)

The only difference between these two plays when comparing team a to team b, is that one of the players has the ball while gripping an opponent’s face mask.

The apparent correction to this oversight is to treat ball carriers as every other player on the field and penalize them for contacting the Face/Facemask/head, and encourage them to play within the rules by executing the “straight arm? at or below shoulder level only.

There is one other rule that specifically was written for player safety regarding helmets;

Section 10
Article 2 – Helmets
A player shall be required to wear a helmet when on the Field of Play and shall
not voluntarily remove it while the play is in progress.
NOTE: If a ball carriers helmet comes off, the play shall be blown dead

The rule clearly states that if the ball carrier looses his helmet the play will be stopped. This was written to prevent a serious injury from occurring during a tackle, and is quite obviously a good rule. The issue is again is that other players are overlooked and the play continues if their brain bucket happens to pop off.

To add to the danger and complexity of a play where an athlete is not protected from head and face injuries, the rules currently state that other than the ball carrier if a player looses their helmet that they are no longer allowed to participate in the play. This helps promote safety, but creates more disparity when on team is forced to finish a play with only 11 men on the field.

A perfect example of this situation occurend in the July 16 game of Hamilton vs. Montreal, when an offensive lineman’s helmet came off during the play. As the rule stands, the offensive lineman is no longer allowed to participate in the play, forcing his team to finish the down with 11 men. In the case of players at the line of scrimmage, and offensive linemen in particular this opens up other players like quarterbacks to hellacious hits they are not expecting – because the player who lost their helmet is assigned to protect them.

Changing the rule so that the play is whistled dead any time a players helmet comes off during the play restores balance and prevents teams from having to play with a disadvantage because an equipment malfunction. This also prevents a situation where a player continues to be involved in a play and could be seriously injured, because the illegal participation rule regarding helmets is only assessed after the play and does not actually prevent a needlessly dangerous situation.

I hope that our commissioner and BOG take these two issues as seriously, and work to amend the rule disparity that not only creates unfair advantages, but also exposes our athletes unnecessarily to the risk of injury. This can be done with two simple changes that are suggested; not allowing running backs to make contact above the shoulders during a “straight arm?, and by whistling the play dead on any play where a helmet comes off of any of the 24 players on the field.


CFL Fans

I agree, and would, if I may, like to add on further point. Too many times I have seen a ball carrier lower his shoulders to batter his way forward in order to gain further yards (as ALL RBs and Receivers are taught), but too often they end up leading with the crown of their helmets, with little to no regard to either their own or the defender's safety in mind. Yet, they are seldom, if never, penalized for this procedure, even though this has often led to injuries on both sides on the ball.

Pushing the head/shoulders of a player vs. pulling a player down or attempting to impede the ball carrier's progress by the face mask. Huge difference. The evidence is in your photos. The rule is fine as it is.

As to the "helmet off" rules, I recall an Argblows Als game where during a run, Mike Pringle's helmet came off and the play continued. It appeared to me that the Argblows players purposely pushed Mike's head and face into the astro-turf on the tackle. The resulting turf burns to Mike's head and face were terrible. No question that a play should be stopped when the ball carrier loses his lid.

The other variant of the rule, while seemingly unfair is, in my opinion as good as it can be. The entire team should not lose a play if one helmet from a non-ball carrier comes off During that play. What if the play is well past where the helmet comes off and the potential for injury caused by the continuation of the play is almost non-existent? A stoppage in play in that instance would be unnecessary and in fact could be very detrimental to the opposing team (i.e. a run broken for a huge gain where, away from the play, a defender's helmet comes off = play stopped) Why would you suggest another rule that could call back another Speedy B TD return for a tenuous call away from the play? I for one could not support your position.

Perhaps an unsportsmanlike call is warranted for players who do not properly affix the straps on their helmets or wear them so loosely that they repeatedly come off. In some cases the player whose helmet comes off bears some of the responsibility. One player forcibly removing another player's helmet is already a rule and no further rules are necessary in that regard. As in most cases where laws, rules or regulation are being considered, create the rule to punish the offender. Don't create a rule where the entire team or game suffers as a result of the actions of one player.

Finally, I am a CFL fan and I do not support your letter to the league, and yet you have signed it as from "CFL Fans." Kindly refrain from professing to speak for me, and remove that salutation from your letter. If the letter is a representation of your feelings or opinion then by all means put your name on it and send it. But your and my position are not the same and your salutation is not factual.

"Changing the rule so that the play is whistled dead any time a players helmet comes off during the play restores balance and prevents teams from having to play with a disadvantage because an equipment malfunction.

So no one would have to chase Speedy Banks into the end zone anymore, they could simply lose their helmet accidentally on purpose and the play would be called dead. :stuck_out_tongue:


sorry mate, you're right but i can't change it now.

We both know how super serious the internetz is. I know, it's really unsettling to talk football on the Ticat's forum - so let's change the topic.

I wrote the following on the Scratching Post:

Mikefrmthhammer // July 22, 2015 at 9:53 am // Reply

Re: the missing helmet penalty – under the current rules it was a penalty. Perhaps a change is necessary? I propose that if an OL loses a helmet he must stop participating, but also the DL facing him must also stop participating. This will lead to the appropriate result – no onrushing DL who takes the QB’s head off because an OL lost a helmet. Perhaps the DL will no longer also target the OL helmet as must have happened in this play as he would know if the OL loses said helmet he would no longer be able to participate himself. My 2 cents worth.

Perhaps if the DE who was facing Figueroa was unable to participate further (since Figs lost his lid) our guy would have been able to stop his participation as well without worrying that he was opening up Collaros to a hellacious hit. Therefore no penalty call and no increased chance for any injury.


A good idea for sure. My only concern would be on a double team?; or stunt. How are players to determine who should stop or who can continue?

A lost helmet is a very dangerous situation. Especially at the pro level where speed and size are at the top of the spectrum. When playing some amateur ball, I was at a practice where a helmet came off during skelly. It was what we called THUD and contact was there but no full out tackling or hard blocking. Just letting the other guy know that you were there. Anyhow, the helmet came off and as the play was coming to an end, there was some light contact between the helmet-less player and a guy with his lid on. It wasn't an intended hit, mind you, but a bump resulting from two players engaging during the play that would usually have gone unnoticed. But, helmet hit mouth and teeth were lost and blood flowed. I believe the guy had a broken nose as well. Helmets and face masks are like plastic bullets and can cause a lot of damage.