Reviewing the CFL Rule Changes

As noted the CFL has approved eight rule changes and one interpretation change for 2007 that were proposed in February meetings. The focus during the off-season has been on the kick return blocking rules, but there are other substantial rule changes which are important to the CFL‘s game play. As we examine each rule, we will note the necessity and impact of the rule.

Illegal Movement

The rule

Rule 4, Section 2, Article 2 – Illegal Movement

Rule change – adding clause:

“This shall include a “snap down” into a two or three point stance by an offensive lineman.”

This rule will penalize offensive linemen 5 yards for abrupt snap down into 2 or 3-point stance.

Rationale for change – To eliminate a tactic by offensive linemen, solely designed to draw the defence offside.

The analysis

This has become a new and frequent tactic by offensive linemen to draw the defence offside in the past few years. Such movement was providing an advantage to the offence to achieve first downs in short yardage situations and slowed down the game with penalties.

The verdict

This is a good rule that forces the offence to move the ball through their own merits.

Kick from Scrimmage

The rule

Rule 5, Section 4 – Kick from Scrimmage

Rule change – add as Article 3, and renumber articles that follow:

“Kick from Scrimmage Going Out of Bounds in Flight”

On a kick from scrimmage going out of bounds in flight between the 20-yard lines, the receiving team will have the option of taking possession at the point the ball went out of bounds in flight, or having a 10-yard penalty applied against the kicking team at the point of the last scrimmage, with the down repeated.

Rationale for change – Forces kicking team on punts and field goal attempts to land the ball in the field of play.

The analysis

This rule may actually provide more excitement on kick returns than the blocking rule change. Kicking out of bounds to eliminate returns has grown from being used in special situations to being used for every kick over the last ten years. I would guess the number of returnable balls had a large affect the number of exciting returns. The 20-yard line restriction is meant to protect the skill of the coffin-corner kick to pin teams deep in their end, and the penalty seems well thought out to allow teams the option of taking the ball in case of a shanked punt or repeat the down 10-yards back.

The verdict

A good rule, but I feel it could have been applied to anywhere on the field. Requiring the ball to hit the field of play before going out of bounds inside the 20’s and in the end zone will provide kickers to show a much greater level of skill than allowing them to get the ball out in the air. That would add much excitement to those coffin-corner kicking plays or when a single point is needed.

Unnecessary Roughness

The rule

Rule 7, Section 2, Article 3 – Unnecessary Roughness

Rule change – add sentence to (a) to read:

“Any player in possession of the ball, who falls to the ground without contact and is not attempting to advance the ball, may only be touched down and may not be contacted in any other manner.”

Rationale for change – Player Safety – Players on the ground are in an extremely vulnerable position and should be protected from excessive contact.

The analysis

Eliminates issue where players down on ground were taking hits that were unnecessary.

The verdict

This is a good rule that protects the safety of players and has no affect on game play.

Time In

The rule

Rule 1, Section 7, Article 4 – Time in

Rule change – add text in bold as follows:

“After a time out for any reason, time shall start again on the signal of the referee for any of the following reasons:

* When it is snapped after team A commits an offensive foul prior to the snap, inside their own 25 yd line.”

Rationale for change – Eliminate situation where teams deliberately take two consecutive pre-snap fouls in order to run time off the clock.

The analysis

This rule eliminates a loophole that allowed teams to run more than one play clock off the game clock by taking a penalty. This was slowing down the game with some very unexciting plays and giving the offence an advantage to run down the clock when time was valuable.

The verdict

A pet peeve of mine for a few years now, this is a great rule that as logical as it is should have been in place a long time ago. While it is restricted to within their own 25-yard line, it is at least a start.

Unnecessary Roughness

The rule

Rule 7, Section 2, Article 3 – Unnecessary Roughness

Rule change – add clause to read:

“Tackling an opponent by grabbing the inside collar of the side or back of the shoulders”

Rationale for change – Player Safety – Eliminating the dangerous “horse collar” tackle.

The analysis

Elimination of a type of tackle, which was rarely used, so has little effect on a defence’s ability to tackle.

The verdict

This is a good rule that will not affect game play.

Unnecessary Roughness

The rule

Rule 7, Section 2, Article 3 (h) – Unnecessary Roughness

Rule change – add specific wording:

“Contacting an opponent above the shoulders in an unnecessarily rough manner, including the long snapper on kicks from scrimmage, and convert attempts.”

Rationale for change – Player Safety – Protection for long snappers who are in a vulnerable position when snapping the ball.

The analysis

This rule protects the long-snapper, who is not an immediate factor in kick returns.

The verdict

This is a good rule that will not affect game play.

Roughing the Passer

The rule

Rule 7, Section 2, Article 4 – Roughing the Passer

Rule change – Re-word clause (c):

“All rushing defenders must make every attempt to avoid hitting a passer at or below the knees, either if their path to the passer was unrestricted, or if they are coming off a blocker”

Rationale for change – Player Safety – Defensive players must avoid contact at or below the passer’s knees.

The analysis

This rule protects the quarterback in the pocket by clarifying restrictions for contact below the knees.

The verdict

May result in more roughing the passer penalties depending on how it is called. This rule eliminates defensive players on the ground making tackle on quarterback if no contact is allowed.

Roughing the Passer

The rule

Rule 7. Section 2, Article 4 – Roughing the Passer

Rule change – add clause to read:

“Contacting the passer if either the initial source of contact, or primary source of contact, is the defender’s helmet”

Rationale for change – Player Safety – Defensive players may not lead with the head or use the head as the primary contact point to hit a passer. Ducking the head and launching at a passer is not acceptable.

The analysis

Meant to clarify the helmet-to-helmet contact rule for quarterbacks due to some incidents in 2006, this will be a tough habit for defenders to get out of when they have a clear path to the quarterback. The desire to protect quarterbacks is needed, but if this is called to the letter, the number of penalties for roughing the passer will increase drastically until defences adjust.

The verdict

This rule may have an affect on game play with many calls until defences adjust. In the end if defences do adjust, it should help eliminate quarterback head injuries.

Blocking on Kick Returns

The rule

Blocking on Kick returns

The illegal blocking rule states that player cannot contact an opponent from behind.

Rule change – To interpret a player having four sides and it is only illegal to contact the player in the back.

Rationale for change – Creates more legal blocks on the side of the defensive player.

The analysis

Reverting to the pre-2006 rule interpretation, this should open up the return game as blockers can fall back to their natural blocking behaviour. Not all return issues were due to the blocking rules, however, and will not result in a return to the offensive numbers in previous years.

The verdict

A needed change, but contrary to popular belief, not many returns were called back due to penalty after players adapted to the rules early in the season. Other factors such as increased roster sizes, special team coverage specialists and kicking to sidelines to eliminate returnable balls have affected the return game. With adjustments to two return rules, hopefully returns can become a greater part of the CFL game again. Legislating the other factors that have affected the game will be much more difficult if balance does not return to the game with these changes.

Conclusion

The rule adjustments have received positive reviews (more, more) and I feel that they are all positive steps. A few of the rules I can see getting adjusted in the future to go farther to show off the specific skills that are part of the CFL game.

While I do not have any additional on-field rule changes that I would like to see, there are two areas that I wish the CFL to address. I called for the abolishment of video review, and although it was not expected to be eliminated, I did expect the CFL to tweak it after its first year of use. There certainly are loopholes being used in the video review process. In addition, I would like to see the overtime rules revisited. During regular season play, the overtime shootout should remain, with the scrimmage line set at the 45-yard line. For playoffs and the Grey Cup, a return to a regular timed quarter should be implemented, whether that is two 10-minute halves or one additional 15-minute quarter, the clubs can decide that.

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