The Canadian Football League released a statement regarding player health and safety on Thursday:
“An eighth official whose only responsibility is to watch for any blows delivered to the head or neck of a quarterback, one of the most vulnerable players on the field, will be added for this weekend’s Eastern and Western Finals and the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, the Canadian Football League has announced.
The change comes after a high hit to Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback Brandon Bridge, which should have been assessed a penalty for roughing the passer, was not flagged during last weekend’s Western Semi-Final game. Video from a camera worn by the Head Referee revealed his view had been blocked by a different player.
“It is very important that this sort of potentially dangerous play is penalized on the field in addition to being subject to supplementary discipline. Not only is it important to the integrity of the game, it can act as a deterrent,” said Randy Ambrosie, Commissioner of the CFL.
“That is why we are adding an additional set of eyes, with a strictly limited but well defined mandate, to our officiating crew. No system is fail safe and no human is incapable of error. And nothing we do on player safety should be held up as the ultimate solution. Our approach must constantly evolve. But we believe this is a step forward. We will continue to look for ways to not only penalize dangerous play but, more importantly, prevent it.”
The decision to act was made after the issue of quarterback safety was discussed this week with the nine CFL member clubs and this particular proposal was presented yesterday to the four clubs still in contention for Canadian professional football’s ultimate prize, the Grey Cup.
“I want to thank the clubs for their input and counsel. I especially want to acknowledge the view of some that making a change in the middle of the playoffs has some significant risks,” Ambrosie said.
“I understand and even sympathize to a large extent with that position. Making changes at this point is another variable coaches and players and even officials, all of whom are under pressure at this critical time of year, have to consider. But we ultimately came to the conclusion that this step is needed at this time. We have done much over the years to protect quarterbacks, including rule changes. This year, we increased fines and even imposed suspensions. We tweaked our officiating protocols to assign to umpires as well as head referees the responsibility for detecting and calling high hits to the quarterback. But it is clear we need to do more.”
If the eighth official sees a blow to the head or neck of the quarterback that has not already been flagged, he will advise the Head Referee, who can then assess a penalty for roughing the passer. The eighth official will have no other responsibilities and cannot suggest or call a penalty for other infractions. The role of the eighth official will be filled by someone who has experience as a head referee.
“After the Grey Cup, we will assess this change as part of a complete review of what we are doing, and what else might be done, to protect quarterbacks and improve health and safety for all of our players,” Ambrosie said.
“The addition of an eighth official may prove to be an interim step. It may become part of a broader package of reforms which may include changes to the mandate of the Command Centre. That will be determined by a process that will include our Canadian Football League Players’ Association, our Rules Committee, our officials and our governors. The process of improving player health and safety is very important to us and it never ends.”