Official's advice

George Black, CFL director of officiating, explains rule changes to the media at Commonwealth...

George Black, CFL director of officiating, explains rule changes to the media at Commonwealth Stadium yesterday. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

EDMONTON -- George Black is trying to lift the cloud of secrecy that has followed CFL officials for years.

For the first time in memory, the CFL's officiating gurus - Jim Daley and Black - sat down in Edmonton yesterday with the Eskimos coaching staff and the media to explain rule changes and interpretations of those rules.

"It used to be the officials made the rules - they knew them and everybody else had to figure them out," said Black, the CFL's director of officiating.

"And that is not fair.

"It is not productive and it is not good for the game."

Coming off a year where games became dull and the excitement from the punt/kick return game all but disappeared off the map, the CFL made a critical illegal block rule change this off-season to help bring that excitement back.

Black and Daley went to great lengths yesterday to show the media - using white board diagrams and video clips - to show the new blocking rules.

But on a different level, the sessions with the coaches and the media yesterday were also designed to take some heat off of the zebras.

The league employs 42 officials, who took significant heat from fans last year.

"I think our guys do a pretty good job.

"I think sometimes we are unfairly criticized for applying the rules correctly," continued Black.

"But if we can help you understand what it is we do, then hopefully you will be less critical and the product will be better for everybody.

"That is all about creating a positive atmosphere for the Canadian Football League."

The changes to the illegal blocking rules should also create some more points.

There were just three punt/kickoff returns for touchdowns last year.

While special teams players were fresher last year because of the additional roster size, the illegal-block rules played a major part in the boring play.

Referees called blocks from behind and from a significant portion of the player's side as illegal last year.

In hard numbers, the refs called 125 illegal block penalties, up from 55 in 2005.

This year, referees are going to let more blocks from the side go without flags.

"Now, it's closer to 70% (of a player's body) that you can use as a legal blocking surface," said Daley, who is a senior adviser of officiating.

The league office is asking players and referees to visualize a piece of plywood across a player's back.

Any contact to the back is a penalty. Any contact to that so-called extended piece of plywood on either side of the back is a grey area that the official could call as an illegal block penalty.

"What we want is clarity," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia.

"At least we can go to camp and talk to the players: this is how things are going to be called."

The Eskimos' return game was nothing short of abysmal at times last year.

After four special teams touchdowns in 2005, returner Tony Tompkins had zero last season.


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