CFL needs some new ideas

CFL commissioner Tom Wright welcomes ideas to further enhance the entertainment value and unique...

CFL commissioner Tom Wright welcomes ideas to further enhance the entertainment value and unique aspects of the Canadian game. (Toronto Sun File/Dave Abel)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

Learn the lesson, says Tom Wright.

The CFL commissioner says what's happening right now with the NHL, with fans generally loving the dramatic and revolutionary rule changes put in for them over the objections of the traditionalists and conservatives who had choked the life out of the game, should be noted by his league.

The commissioner and his new director of officiating, George Black, say the CFL has to be open to similar thinking.

"What's happening in the NHL right now shouldn't be lost on the CFL," says Wright.

He says the CFL welcomes ideas to challenge the traditionalists and conservatives to further enhance the entertainment value and unique aspects of the Canadian game.

"I think we have to," says Wright.

"Coaches love predictability. Fans love unpredictability."

Black is a big hockey fan.

"The NHL has done a terrific job. Slowly the NHL game evolved into a game which took away from the fan value. I think the NHL did a wonderful job of bringing it back. They had the courage to listen to the players, the media and the fans.

"There's a bit of a conservative nature to the rules committee," he says of his group.

LESSON IS THERE TO BE LEARNED

But the lesson is there to be learned.

"Right now I think we're willing to look at anything that adds excitement. Why would we not? I'd like to see anybody who understands the unique aspects of the Canadian game challenge the committee with ideas."

Due mostly to the much more boring brand of football in the NFL with fair catches, three clouds of dust on a postage-stamp-sized field compared to the CFL's pass-happy game which can end with teams kicking the ball in and out of the end zone, there hasn't been a huge cry for rule changes.

But this year, the same season the NHL has made all the changes that coaches, general managers and traditionalists were against for years, there's been concern about one of the great features of the Canadian game -- the punt return.

Most CFL teams now have a terrific return man to carry on the tradition of Gizmo Williams and Pinball Clemons.

It's ours, it's the most exciting play in football and coaches are trying to eliminate it by booting the ball out of bounds.

Oh, we're still seeing some great returns like the 67-yarder by Tony Tompkins against the Toronto Argos that earned Tompkins a fourth special teams player of week honour. But give a coach a chance to neutral zone trap and he'll play a neutral zone trap. More and more the coaches have their punters booting the ball out of bounds.

The solution may be a 15-yard penalty. Tack that on to a 14-yard punt like the one Sean Fleming of the Eskimos produced in Toronto trying to punt one, and a coach has to think about it.

"We need to find the right balance between ensuring the parts as distinct as the return game retain their prominence yet reward the skill of punters. We don't, to use your expression, want to let the coaches neutral zone trap it," says Wright.

RETURN GAME SHOULD BE PRECIOUS

Block says the return game should be precious to CFL fans.

"You and I go back to when we had no blocking on punt returns and they called it the suicide squad. Now the return is a huge part of our game. Maybe we need to look real hard at putting in a penalty for punting it out of bounds between the 20 yard lines. I, for one, wouldn't want to see them eliminate kicking it out in the coffin corner. I think that is an exciting play. But ..."

The shootout, detested by just about everybody in hockey, is a huge, huge, hit with the fans so far. How much more exciting do you think a football game might be if the CFL had a re-think on the convert?

This is something that would never come from a traditionalist conservative football mind. But think about it.

There is zero entertainment value in a convert. None!

Make all points-after two-point converts attempts with teams having one play to get the ball in the end zone from the five.

"Maybe not from the five. Maybe from the three-yard line," says Wright.

Got any ideas? Tom Wright and George Black are willing to listen.

Great time to be a fan in Canada, isn't it?


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