CFL officially improving

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

In a perfect world, moments after Stamps linebacker JoJuan Armour collided with umpire Bill Hagans Saturday, league officials in Toronto would have called from command centre with word the hit was unintentional.

However, the reality is the man overseeing CFL officiating wasn't huddled up in nerve central, but in the closest thing the league has to a war room: His living room.

Yes, it's Week 7 of the season and CFL officiating is back on the front burner as Stamps fans simmer over the ejection of Armour and subsequent league apology.

Most observers flippantly suggest nothing has changed over the years and that the CFL is still the most poorly officiated loop outside of pro wrestling.

The man in charge of it begs to differ.

"I believe, on the whole, most of the coaches would say the officiating is better than it has been -- I personally like the direction it's going," said former Stamps coach-turned director of officiating Tom Higgins, whose hiring in itself represents an indication the league is willing to spend more to fix the problem and its image.

"Because there's been a conscious effort by the clubs, the governors and the head office, I think it will continue to improve. The tide is turning."

So, is that to say he acknowledges the league has been plagued by poor officiating as many believe?

"I really believe it's gotten a bad wrap," Higgins said.

"It's no different than a coach or player who someone can say, 'He had a really good game, but he threw two interceptions.' Well, the official had a really good game, but he blows one call and everyone says he had a terrible game. It's a mind-set, and I really believe it's changing. Fact is there are less flags because they're playing better and closer to the letter of the law. It's a co-operated effort between the players, coaches and officials who all have a stake."

For proof the league is doing more to improve it's officiating, Higgins points to the addition of a supervisor at every game this year to assist the head referee with video replays. That said, officials are still at the mercy of broadcast partner TSN, which is the sole provider of footage on which they base their reviews.

Officials see only what viewers see, and in Armour's case, the footage shown by TSN only showed the contact, not the fact an o-lineman threw Armour into the official.

Higgins got a six-second clip emailed to him from the Stamps' sideline footage the next day that clearly showed the collision was accidental.

Either way, CFL officials who are paid between $700 and $1,000 a game -- plus expenses -- are subject to training camps, film work, exams, fitness levels and professionalism. just like the NFL's crew of part-timers.

"My NFL counterpart is absolutely amazed at the competency of the officials here with the field being so big and the unlimited motion and the additional player on the field," said Higgins, pointing out the NFL has 24 cameras at every game to use for replays compared to TSN's 10.

"The technology is going to improve, putting someone upstairs has helped and the recruitment of officials has helped. I'm absolutely pleased and shocked at the professionalism, knowledge and dedication the 42 officials, 10 supervisors and evaluators have."

Last year, a system was put in place to evaluate each official after every game, followed by a conference call every Monday to evaluate the evaluator. Officials are reprimanded for mistakes, and after the bye-week, the league's six officiating crews is narrowed to five.

What's more, Higgins has a trip planned to New York this fall to see the NFL's war room in action and has plans to set up a CFL version in the next few years.

"If it's something that can help our league, it's worth it," he said. "There's been a conscientious effort to put into place what it takes to do things right."

That's the best call league officials have made in years.


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