October 24, 2011

Higgins: Teams search for edge in critical time

Tom Higgins

This is a critical time for teams as they grind towards the playoffs. Injuries, depth, and momentum are key factors as contenders try to peak at the right time. The weather can play a huge role in our Canadian game as well.

In the big eastern matchup this past weekend, one of the biggest plays happened before the kickoff, when the Bombers won the coin toss.

All of the points scored in the second half were scored with the wind: 16 in the third for Montreal, and 17 by the Bombers in the fourth, as Winnipeg emerged with a one point victory.

That’s something to watch for in the weeks ahead. Some other things to look out for are featured in this week’s Ask The Ref.

Question from Eric: If the punter gets downfield and is the first player to touch the ball after the punt (but not control it) is it a live ball for both teams or does the rest of the punting team still have to stay five yards away? Also, if the punter recovers the ball but other members of the coverage team are within five yards, who gets possession?

Tom Higgins:
As you clearly understand, the punter is considered “onside” and can recover his own kick. Again, this becomes more likely when he is kicking into the wind. It’s something that could well happen this year at a playoff game in Winnipeg or Edmonton or Calgary.

If the punter is the first person to touch the ball, but doesn’t recover it, the officials then treat the rest of the play as a fumble, meaning any player from either team is able to recover the ball. Members of the kicking team can recover the ball within the five-yard zone, provided they do not interfere with the potential returner as he attempts to recover the ball.

If a member of the kicking team does in fact interfere with the returner’s attempt to recover the ball, the penalty is “no yards interference”, and possession goes to the return team, 15 yards forward from the spot of the foul, even if the punter recovered the ball
Question from Matt: There has been a lot of discussion, as always, about pass interference in general and face guarding in particular. Does a defensive back in tight coverage on a receiver have to turn and look at the ball if he is going to make a play on it?

TH: No, that’s a myth. A player is permitted to shoot his hands out in an attempt to break up a pass even if he does not turn to look for the ball. Screening, or face guarding, occurs when a player blocks a potential receiver’s vision by putting his hands directly in front of that receiver’s face for a period of time, over and above his initial effort to break up the pass.

That’s the standard.

Question from Chuck: It appears that taunting is the one topic nobody wants to talk about as I have asked for an explanation a couple of previous times, to no avail.
So far this season there has been no consistency in the application of this penalty. It is very clear that if you taunt the other team or another player, it is not a penalty, so what is? Earlier in the season players were called for taunting if they either threw the ball at an opposing player or they punted the ball after scoring a touchdown. The latter seemed strange because no penalty is called if a player throws the ball into the stands yet punting the ball into the stands was called.
But during a recent game between Calgary and Saskatchewan, Charleston Hughes picked up a fumble, ran the ball for a touchdown and proceeded to punt the ball into the stands. For some unknown reason, there was no penalty called, despite the precedent that was set in earlier games.

Could you please explain, what is the criterion for taunting to be called?

TH: Chuck, were you trying to taunt me into addressing this topic? All kidding aside, I’m happy for the opportunity.

Taunting is covered in our rule book in the section on objectionable conduct, and refers to “baiting or taunting an opponent by act or word.”

Kicking the football into the stands as part of a touchdown celebration should not be flagged. We did have one occasion earlier this year when this was flagged incorrectly, and I believe we have been quite consistent since then.

It’s important to note that kicking the ball in frustration after a play from scrimmage is considered to be objectionable conduct. Kicking, or throwing or tossing, a ball at an opponent is of course a classic example of objectionable conduct and should never be tolerated. Respect for the game and respect for your opponent go hand in hand

There’s one last thing I’d like to pass along this week. The following note is typical of the correspondence I receive from most of our fans. It’s respectful and thoughtful, while acknowledging that fans and officials won’t always agree. I share it with you, along with my thanks for supporting our game and our league.

Here’s the note:

Hi Tom,

Bomber fan here, I just wanted to say a quick note of thanks for your explanations of the Bombers vs Als, and for addressing your comments that upset me, and many others, about “justice” being served. I appreciate that you are willing to interact with the fans to answer questions they have.

It certainly makes being a fan of the CFL a lot more bearable, given the level of frustration I’ve felt towards it and it’s officials the last half decade or so. I may not agree with you about the correct play-clock call being made, but I do realize I don’t have the knowledge, experience, or passion you have towards the CFL. Thanks for the work you’re doing with the officials, and also in public. I remain hopeful things will continue to improve.