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O’Leary: Proposed rule changes put focus on hot-button topics

The CFL’s rules committee sat down for its annual meeting Friday and came away with changes to two of the most discussed issues through last season.

Replay will be tweaked for the 2019 season, allowing the command centre to assist a referee when they’re in situations where they miss an infraction against a quarterback or a kicker.

The other big change comes to the challenge rule, which will see a coach that wins a challenge keep his flag, to a maximum of two challenges per game.

A driving force on the change to the challenge rule, according to the CFL’s senior director of officiating, Darren Hackwood, was the number of fans that addressed concerns to commissioner Randy Ambrosie in his Randy’s Road Trip tour across the country this winter.

“He’s gotten feedback from fans that they’d like to see this change made,” Hackwood said. “It’s gotten pretty good support.

“The benefit is if a coach has to use his challenge early in the game…if you don’t change the rule they’re out of challenges. So if some big play happens toward the end of the game, nobody can challenge it and if there’s a miss on the field, this is what that is designed to solve. It’s the protection of giving a coach a second challenge.”


  • Coaches should be entitled to a second challenge if their first is successful, giving them a potential maximum of two per game instead of just one.
  • The ability for the Command Centre to upgrade a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty to a 25-yard penalty for a direct blow to the quarterbacks’ head or neck with the helmet when that player has a clear view to the quarterback
  • Allowing the Command Centre to assist Referees with called and non-called roughing the passer penalties
  • If a player receives two 25-yard penalties in the same game, he be disqualified from that game.

For an expanded list of proposed rule changes, click here.

With the change to replay comes an on-field adjustment. The league added an eighth official to the field in light of a missed roughing the passer call on then-Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Brandon Bridge in the Western Semi-Final. The eighth official will not be on the field this season because the expanded use of replay and command centre feedback in-game will allow for the official to have access to more angles.

“So a play like that happens and the referee senses, they understand what’s going on,” Hackwood said. “They see the quarterback on the ground and if they’re not 100 per cent certain how it happened they can now ask for help and we can get it right.”

Hackwood said the changes to replay received good feedback from the rules committee when it was discussed a couple of times earlier this year in a conference call.

“It’s basically the ability for the replay official to assist the referee in calling roughing the quarterback and roughing the kicker. Those two are the big ones,” he said.

“The reason for it is there are typically good camera angles on the quarterback and there are typically good camera angles on the kickers. Those are two that we can solve quickly without really stopping the game and impacting the game flow.

“The replay official is on the headset with the referee on the field. The way we see this working is the referee not being 100 per cent certain when something happens and turning on his radio and asking for help. ‘Hey guys, was that to the head?’ Those sorts of questions and the replay official then being able to assist the referee with those two specific kinds of penalties.”

The communication between the referee and the command centre won’t require the ref to go to the sideline, Hackwood said. It would be a simple exchange over the headset the referee is wearing, which shouldn’t slow the game down.

“The technology has gotten better,” he said. “It’s going to be one of those situations where the referee is asking for help. The play has already occurred. We’re not talking about a lot of situations and again the camera angles on the quarterback and kicker are great, so hopefully the replay official can very quickly determine what the answer is and we can move on. I don’t think this one will impact game flow too much.”