CFL cracking down

CFL commisioner Mark Cohon has decided to crack down on dangerous cheap shots. (Sun Media/Jim...

CFL commisioner Mark Cohon has decided to crack down on dangerous cheap shots. (Sun Media/Jim Wells)

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

It's the CFL's ticking time bomb, and yesterday the league took a big step away from it.

Days after exclusively telling the Sun that it was virtually powerless to suspend players for dirty hits, the league yesterday tried to regain hold of that power with a sweeping new policy on suspensions.

Effective immediately, players who deliver dangerous cheap shots, including severe helmet-to-helmet hits, will be subject to mandatory suspensions.

The edict, handed down by CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, comes after Edmonton's Agustin Barrenechea rammed his helmet into Blue Bomber quarterback Kevin Glenn's in a game here, last Friday -- and just two days before the teams play a rematch in Edmonton.

The league handed Barrenechea a $1,000 fine, but no suspension, citing a drawn-out appeal process that, based on recent history, probably would have overturned it, anyway.

"The events of this past weekend made it crystal clear to me and to people around the league that we need to act," Cohon said during a conference call. "We are giving our players clear, advance and fair warning these are the penalties they will face for acts that have no place in our game."

But will the new policy have any teeth?

The same appeal process remains open to offenders.

But the league is hoping arbitrators in future appeals take into account the new edict, and not just precedents.

Cohon and CFL chief operating officer Michael Copeland also went out of their way to say the players' union has not agreed to the new rules, and questioned the association's interest in player safety.

The league says it's been working towards a new policy with the players since last season, but hasn't been able to come to an agreement.

"It's also the responsibility of the union to protect their players," Cohon said. "We were hoping they would step up and show leadership on this. They have not."

It sounds like the CFL has a fight on its hands over this one.

CFL Players' Association lawyer Ed Molstad says the language in the new policy is unacceptable, and that the two sides have "agreed to disagree."

The players' association's main beef with the disciplinary system is the lack of a hearing in front of the commissioner before any fine or suspension is handed down.

The new rules, or at least the way they've been implemented, aren't sitting well with the rank and file, either.

"Wow -- they circumvented the players' association," Bomber player rep Doug Brown said upon hearing the news. "So they're kind of stacking the deck in their favour. That's interesting. Maybe the players' association could make a few new rules, too. I've never heard of anything like that before."

Brown said he didn't want to criticize the new policy because he might be fined, a reference to teammate Cam Hall being fined for questioning the officials who handled last Friday's game.

The incidents that'll draw automatic suspensions:

- spearing to the helmet or face mask.

- throwing a helmet recklessly or dangerously

- violently kicking, punching, kneeing or stomping an opponent who is defenceless.

Under the new edict, Barrenechea would likely have been suspended for one game.

The fact there's still plenty of bad blood between the Bombers and Eskimos, and the teams play tomorrow, made the league want to act quickly.

But why didn't they try this crackdown much sooner, say, going into the season, instead of waiting for another high-risk play?

This continues to look bad on both the CFL and the players' association.

The league can now say, "We've done what we can, and the blood's not on our hands."

But if another dirty hit seriously injures somebody, there will still be plenty of blame to go around.

It might take a test case to see if this new policy has teeth.

Both sides had better hope that test case doesn't produce a serious injury.


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