CFL replay given more power

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

CALGARY - As nervous as football fans were for their CFL team's fortunes during last season's playoffs, there wasn't a more anxious person than Tom Higgins.

Knowing there was a rule he needed to change but couldn’t, the CFL’s director of officiated held his breath every time a receiver dropped a pass on a bang-bang play.

Things came to a head Sept. 24, when the Montreal Alouettes pulled out a victory against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Late in the fourth quarter, Als receiver Jamel Richardson pulled in a one-handed grab, but the ball was jarred loose by a Bombers defender and recovered.

It was ruled incomplete on the field, but it should have been a catch and a fumble.

Had the Bombers been able to challenge (it was in the final three minutes, when the booth calls them), Higgins’ crew would have only been able to award the Als yardage to where the ball was knocked loose.

In the rulebook, the official in the command centre back in Toronto couldn’t give the defending team the ball.

“If the same thing happened in the playoff or the Grey Cup, Jake (Ireland, the replay official) wouldn’t have called a review and taken the heat for it,” Higgins said.

A firestorm erupted from Bombers camp and Higgins was sympathetic.

Higgins wanted the rule changed immediately but couldn’t do it. A process of several rule changes and education to all teams had to meted out before this could happen, and the CFL has never adjusted rules mid-season.

In 2011, the Bombers will get the ball if the same thing happens again.

In the process of educating coaches about the adjustments the league made this off-season, Higgins stopped in Calgary Thursday to teach the media about them as well.

“Everything had to align,” Higgins said. “We thought the loopholes were closed last season. Something will come up and present itself that we will be talking about next year or the year after.”

The same replay rule applies to plays where the defending team knocks the ball loose from a quarterback. The defence can be awarded the ball if it’s clear they immediately jumped on it.

Another alteration may have more impact on the game. On punted balls that sail out of bounds in the air between the 20 yard lines, the receiving team can now take a 10-yard penalty from the spot it goes out.

Previously, the receiving team could only opt for a re-kick.

“We’re hoping the ball stays in-bounds more,” Higgins said. “It’s a subtle change but a good one.”


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