Incapable officiating proves player safety not a CFL priority

This morning was business as usual for Karen Kuldys. Her alarm went off before dawn at 4:30 a.m. She got up and went to work at A&W. 

This morning, the bigger question is how – or if – Ricky Ray slept last night. You’d have to think the Argos medical staff kept him up until their flight in the wee hours of the morning. He had to have suffered some kind of brain trauma on that despicable, ugly blow to the head from Cory Johnson late in the fourth quarter.

A long-time team executive texted me after the play: “One of the worse (sic) cheap shots I’ve seen.”

He saw it, you saw it, Chris Cuthbert called it, hell, Randy Ambrosie couldn’t have missed it from the executive suite a mile above the play. Yet… yet, another game and another series of blown calls affecting the game’s result and the health of a league’s marquee player. 

Was there a peep from the CFL office last night or this morning? One of the last Tweets from the league’s PR director came Thursday and it was about his favourite beers, and nothing was posted after halftime. So, then, back to business as usual for the CFL: head in the sand, hoping the furor will go away with a doubleheader on tap this evening.

Will there be accountability for what happened in Winnipeg? For missing the Johnson hit? For screwing Karen out of a million dollars? For not knowing what down it was, or where the line of scrimmage was, after getting another pass interference call wrong in the end zone?

The incapability of CFL on-field officials has reached the point where players are no longer protected on the field, contradicting the longest standing drinking game the league has. Think how tipsy you’d be if you took a sip every time you hear or read someone from headquarters declare: “player safety is paramount to us.” 

It isn’t and it can’t be. Not when Ben Major, promoted to referee this season by Glen Johnson, misses not one but two hits to Ray’s head in the final minutes of regulation. Not when the league went out of its way this winter to give the Argonauts the most accommodating schedule possible, putting other teams (see Ottawa) in a dangerous, disadvantageous position (see three games in 11 days in three different cities) that proves player safety is far from paramount to the RedBlacks.

Understand the politics at play here: the CFL demoted Murray Clarke from referee to field judge, in large part because he missed obvious roughing the passer calls. Protecting the quarterback is a point of emphasis at all levels of football these days, after all, and to the league office that just couldn’t be tolerated.

Now enter Ben Major, Johnson’s handpicked selection. What will the consequence be today, Karen’s million dollars missed notwithstanding? If you’re guessing very little, you probably win the prize. Not the pots and pans that Kuldys first thought were coming her way, either.

Thursday was another opportunity for the CFL. With apologies to NBA Summer League, it was the only pro sporting event being televised in North America. This was a chance to showcase what this game was all about. It was a pretty entertaining get together: two CFL neophytes continuing to electrify on kick returns; Justin Medlock cementing himself as the best kicker in the league; Weston Dressler and Andrew Harris continuing their dominance in Winnipeg’s offence.

And yet, by night’s end, there was Ray getting crushed on a hit – that should merit a suspension – where there was no flag thrown; then the kick return touchdown, that could have become the goodwill story of the season, negated by a flag that should never have been thrown.

Ray’s significance to the Argos can’t be understated. So much so that before the game, Marc Trestman told Terry Koshan of The Toronto Sun, “the rest of us are not as important as him.” At the time of this column, the Argos were flying home from Winnipeg. The team had no update on Ray’s status.

Some believed Ambrosie’s first big test as commissioner was providing the proper discipline on Will “Smith” Hill, who grabbed an official during a game last week. In reality, the new commish knows the real crisis in his league right now. He must deal swiftly with officiating and the command centre and what is happening before his very eyes. People’s livelihoods are on the line with wins and losses. Players’ lives are on the line when they get clubbed in the head. At the very least, a flag could be a deterrent.

Kuldys got her 15 minutes of fame, #WhatAboutKaren trending nationally on Twitter. She went to work this morning knowing a $25,000 prize pack is coming her way.

Ray’s health is not as certain. Nor should status quo with the CFL officiating department. Even Karen Kuldys knew that when she left for A&W in the darkness of Friday morning.

Arash Madani

Arash Madani

Arash Madani is a reporter for Sportsnet. He has staffed 11 Grey Cups & does play-by-play for CIS Football. His dream: the Gaiters playing for a Vanier.
Arash Madani
Arash Madani
About Arash Madani (15 Articles)
Arash Madani is a reporter for Sportsnet. He has staffed 11 Grey Cups & does play-by-play for CIS Football. His dream: the Gaiters playing for a Vanier.
Contact: Website

64 Comments on Incapable officiating proves player safety not a CFL priority

  1. Karen should sue the CFL. Their negligence cost her $1M. I think she has a good case.

    • Rob McDonald // July 14, 2017 at 3:01 pm //

      What negligence? The rule is the returning team cannot block a player from behind. It was a very clear cut penalty. The fact that it happened away from the play is irrelevant. Noel knew the rule and chose to block Miller in the back. He is actually more responsible than anyone

    • Richard // July 15, 2017 at 6:09 am //

      Do you even know what negligence is?

  2. rick boomer // July 14, 2017 at 11:26 am //

    Theres a Reason Attendance and Ratings are WAY down this year

  3. Tennis Kevin // July 14, 2017 at 11:28 am //

    Great article Arash, and bang on

  4. lochtess // July 14, 2017 at 11:34 am //

    Spot on commentary.

  5. Steve Alt // July 14, 2017 at 11:36 am //

    What has journalism come to?

  6. Arash…until the league invests in full time officials the margin for error from an officiating standpoint will continue. Inconsistency extends from a lower standard of competency which will always lead to diminished performance. There is a great opportunity at hand for Commissioner Ambrosie. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and the CFL is learning that the hard way. I know it’s early in the season but the missed calls will likely haunt a team that will fall short of making the playoffs.

    • Millsie // July 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm //

      Dead On… and just an additional observation… I totally get things are missed, but why couldn’t the Command Centre intervene when something as obvious as this is missed ?… Just Saying

    • Refs in the NFL are not full time. The problems are much deeper than that. When the guy in the command centre gets the call wrong after reviewing the infraction, there is a problem with who the league is hiring and training, Regaring Arash and his columns, the issue is not the topic, the issue is the only time this guys writes anything about the CFL, it is always negative.

  7. The Johnson hit makes Will Hill look like a pussycat.A suspension is warranted.

  8. Hors E Power // July 14, 2017 at 11:47 am //

    Refing in the CFL as never been good. High def,digital viewing and technology as just been able to expose it more. If the CFL had more camera angles the problem would be exposed even further.
    There have been regular season games, playoff games and greycups (not 2014) that poor officiating have decided.
    Reviews and challenges have heloed get calls right but has lowered the overall quality. It’s used as a crutch not a tool to get too close to call plays right

    • Ah hors e power you will never see or except the fact that the 201r grey cup was decided on what the league even admited a marginal call. I applaud you as a fan of your team but league strength comes from all 9 not just Calgary.

      • Hors E Power // July 14, 2017 at 2:02 pm //

        marginal maybe…but not wrong!
        I haven’t heard too many argue it except Ti cat fans and the usual peanut gallery of always bitter rider fans
        there was over half a minute left, Ti-cats still had a chance and conversely the stamps would have had that time to either tie or win it.
        Ask the Ti-cats fans what Calgary can do in under a minute in a Grey Cup. Can they think back that far? THANKS JEFF GARCIA

    • Riders13 // July 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm //

      Hey stumpy you ol’ hypocrite. How come you aren’t howling for Johnson to be suspended like you were for Carter a few weeks ago? Just another example of your twisted double standard.

  9. Arash Madani is a goof. The next time he has something positive to say about the CFL will be his first. Get him off this site. He should stick to pretending to be a baseball analyst.

    • Read it again, it was a positive article, unless you disagree and think the hit on Ray was okay and that you agree with all the blown calls.

      • No thanks. I would read it again but I get vomit in the back of my throat when I read anything Arash Madani has to say about the CFL.

  10. I see that Arash has taken advantage of the baseball break to polish up his Outrage-o-matic machine and point it back at the CFL. I take it he feels the league should be announcing disciplinary reviews and decisions (on the Ricky Ray hits) while the game is still going on – via the twitter account of the PR director. He is apparently also using a mail-order medical degree (obtained under the Rogers Sportsnet tuition-refund program, no doubt) to make medical diagnoses on players via TV replays.

    Such great journalistic work will no doubt be highly rewarded by Arash’s Overlords at Sportsnet. Here in the real world, it is disingenuous if not downright irresponsible. The time is long overdue to stop publishing this guy’s work on 3 Down Nation.

  11. I agree that this guy is not a fan of the CFL but if these stories embarrass the league into finally improving the officiating im all for it.

    • Garney. Agree. Don’t like this writer but look at the evidence!?! They call roughing on the Kevin Glenn slide to contact but miss this call. Okay so I can even accept that the on field guy missed it. But the League needs to fine this player and put him on lSt chance probation. Along with Charleston Hughes re Collaros concussion last year. The league needs to get serious about accountability.

  12. Where was the outrage on the obvious cheap shots on Collaros that went uncalled ….now because it’s the Argo QB it’s a big deal

  13. The eye in the sky must be used for player safety. Two shots to Ray’s head. NO Calls! Every fan watching could see the infractions (the advantage of not being at field level) so could the CFL’s Eye in sky officals and the TSN broadcast crew.

    The failure is not that the on field officials missed the blatant head shot infractions, it’s the fact that the CFL’s eye in the sky offical must have seen them as well yet nothing was done to correctly penalize the players. If the first head shot is called the second more vicious head shot would likely have never occurred.

    The articular is correct, player safety is not a priority to the CFL!!!

    My thoughts are with Ricky Ray.

    I await the new commissioners response; are we poised to enter a new era of accountability in professional football, or, are we going to watch the slow demise of the game we LOVE and continue to expose the greatest assets (the players) to needless risk?

  14. Should be a suspension along with fine. Deliberate attempt to injure. It’s also well above time for the video review to get things right. I’m not upset that they got the down wrong, easily correctible, or some of the other calls AS LONG AS the video official gets it right. The phantom block on the kick return TD is so obvious. It makes you wonder whether the money was a factor. Hard not to wonder. Easy fix. If you don’t want to pay the money, can the promotion.

    • Brian Lazorko // July 14, 2017 at 3:16 pm //

      That’s not how the contest works. It is insured. Just like winning a car in a golf tournament for a hole in one. The sponsor pays an insurance premium. In the unlikely event the prize is actually won, the insurance pays for it, not the sponsor. There is no motive here to avoid a prize payout. It is a questionable call, but not a shady one.

  15. Tiger man // July 14, 2017 at 12:46 pm //

    Officiating in this league has been horrible for years..even decades.

    I remember a crucial interception run back for a touchdown in a game between Hamilton and Ottawa. Two calls were made on that one play against the Tiger cats that negated the points and the win.

    Afterward, Johnson said BOTH penalties were a mistake.

    More than anything else we need referees who understand the rules, but can also administrate them properly.

    Not possible in the CFL.

    For that reason, I’m afraid of going to or watching anymore games.

    Since the coaches and players can’t speak up about this, it’s time for the fans to say something loud and clear so that even those in the league office who are so protected get the message.

  16. ,,Patience // July 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm //

    Just not sure what you expect from Arash or any journalist. Sports reporting, world and national news reporting, even financial reporters, most of the stories are about what is wrong in their specialty. So you would prefer that no one reports on anything negative? Sadly, there is more out there than human interest feel-good stories. What would you like any reporter to say about last night’s game? If anyone writes that it was a hard fought, well officiated game, you know that reporter didn’t even watch the game. That game was the kind that leaves a sour taste in a viewer’s mouth and has them losing interest in the CFL. So let’s just sugar coat it and pretend all those atrocious calls and non calls never happened? If Arash points out the bad things in this league, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t like the CFL but that he would like to see it improved. Isn’t that what we all want? I certainly want better officiating, a review panel that gets it right when the on field officials blows a call and protection for the players. Ricky Ray could very well be injured from that hit; not even a penalty called. “Poop” Johnson should be suspended several games for that hit yet no flag was thrown. Let Arash bring these kind of atrocities to the forefront and with enough publicity, perhaps the league will try to fix them.

    • Tiger man // July 14, 2017 at 1:07 pm //

      TOTALLY AGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I’m beyond sick of seeing my team getting screwed on a win by those who’ve never seen a rule book, let alone read one.

      Arash, THANK YOU for putting a much needed spotlight on this nonsense that the league calls officiating.

      The stripes are incompetent or dishonest.

      Neither is good.

  17. Hors E Power // July 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm //


    He was a lousy ref and now he’s a lousy executive.

  18. Everyone in the CFL, and in all sports leagues, thinks that the officials are hosing their team ahead of all others, and Hamilton fans (myself included) probably feel that more than most (Hello, Jake Ireland), and Arash Madani has taken a lot of heat for what are perceived as an anti-CFL bias in his pieces.

    However, everything in this article is on point, from an objective viewpoint. Heck, Madani even praises the on-field football product in several places. It doesn’t matter whether you’re watching your team, or from a neutral perspective, the officiating has been abysmal this year more so than any other. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not just that you expect bad calls, but that you don’t trust the game officials at all.

    Add to that Glen Johnson’s ludicrous statement earlier this year about only really worrying about “egregious” calls being caught by the instant replay officials (what’s the point of having a replay policy then, Glen?), and it gets to the point where even the hard-core fans enjoyment of the game is compromised.

    What I used to love about the CFL was that the officials may have let a lot of stuff go, but they caught the important stuff. The NFL was the one that had all the marginal penalties being called (“Illegal Forward Pass while Jupiter is in Capricorn”). Now the CFL is the one where all the ticky-tack flags are being thrown, but the bread-and-butter calls are being missed. That’s unforgivable and needs to be a priority for the new commissioner.

    There’s no standard, there’s no consistency, there’s no concern for player safety. And soon, there’s going to be no point in watching the games any longer.

    • ,,Patience // July 14, 2017 at 1:18 pm //

      I so agree with you. We can all be forgiven for being biased when our team is on the field; that is human nature. But there is no QB that I hate enough to see being thumped like Ricky Ray was last night. That was definitely egregious.

  19. ,,Patience // July 14, 2017 at 1:05 pm //

    By the way, why would a CFL PR director be tweeting about what kind of beer he prefers? Is he paid to promote the CFL or a beer company? Kick his overpaid butt to the curb and let him go peddle brew. Perhaps our league office needs its house cleaned.

    • That clueless PR monkey has no idea how to actually promote the league when there is good news much less how to handle a crisis. No wonder there wasn’t a peep out of him.

      The guy Arash is talking about is just a failed politico, hired by Orridge so you know what kind of quality he is. But he’s also a special diversity hire and since the league/Bell only cares about that now not merit, he appears untouchable no matter how many times he screws up.

      • Angry white guy, I take it?

        • What does race have to do with anything in this situation? The clueless PR monkey is whiter than I am.

        • I dunno, you tell me: what other meaning is there to the words “special diversity hire” and “cares about that now not merit”? Classic code words for “unqualified minorities taking our jobs!” I was also confused by it based on what I could tell about his demographics. I’ll leave it for you to explain if you meant something other than what I inferred.

  20. Arash does have a bias against the CFL but these plays speak for themselves. I’ll give Ambroise a pass on the Will matter this time. Johnson has beem incompetent since day one. Time for a change!

  21. Gotmilt // July 14, 2017 at 1:40 pm //

    Ha who cares, we won. Suspend Poop for a game. Everyone makes a big deal when it’s the Argos who get poor calls but we’ve been getting the short end for years and our qbs get cheap shotted every year. Nobody says anything.

    Hope you like it.

  22. Hors E Power // July 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm //

    I know there are other officials making the calls too, but if I had to rank the Head Referees this would be the order from good to bad
    I can’t think of the other 2 but they aren’t worth mentioning. Who’s the younger guy with the buzz cut? The one that can’t even announce the call without getting the numbers wrong or saying the wrong penalty or getting lost for words?- he is the worst.

    Top calibre officiating is the same as top calibre players. It starts with grassroots programs and proper coaching/mentoring throughout a young persons life. Just like a novice can’t play at the highest level a novice cannot officiate at the highest level. You must take younger people and get them involved ,mentored,coached and educated in the game. Only then will you get pro calibre officiating.
    Until this happens there is no on field solution.
    In the mean time we will have to live with status quo or see more “eye in the sky” officiating .. Meaning every play will be replayed in slow, scrutinized by a group sitting in the head office and they will determine what or if calls should be made. Get used to 5 hour games!

    • For once I agree with you horse e hair. The sad part this year is that not only is the officiating on field horrible (at best)….but the “command center” in good ol TO must be drunk or smokin some of trudeaus private stash ? They have missed so many obvious calls this year it’s pathetic.

  23. Good piece Arash, absolutely bang on. Thanks for the article.

  24. Super Cabrone // July 14, 2017 at 2:11 pm //

    Okay, okay, Mr. Madani, take a deep breath, watch the hit again, slowly begin to realise that in real time, the defensive player was committed to hitting the quarterback who had tripped and was on his way to the turf. Had Ray NOT tripped a microsecond prior to the hit he would have taken the full brunt of the force on his chest or shoulder pads where Johnson was undoubtedly aiming and not his head. Should it have been flagged as UR on the QB? Yes, without question. The QB was struck in the head and regardless of intent, the rules must protect the QB’s of this league, and to the extent that it wasn’t flagged continues to illustrate the abysmal state of officiating that has existed in this league for at least the last 15 years. However, to continue calling it a cheap shot or malicious behaviour worthy of suspension is to ignore how fast things happen on the field and that as a defender attempting to prevent a game tying throw from happening, you cannot stop yourself in midair because the QB had tripped one fifth of a second prior. Sensationalist reactionaries like Madani and Suitor ought to stop pronouncing that they have some insight into what’s in the hearts and minds of players with their accusatory invective.

    • Brian Lazorko // July 14, 2017 at 3:26 pm //

      Commmited both feet and then jumping at the quarterback a step after the ball was realeased? That’s just it. It was a late hit. A dangerous cheap shot. Watch the video. Ball realeased, a step taken, plant both feet, jump at the quarterback. 100% intentional late hit and 100% intentional jump at him.

      • Super Cabrone // July 14, 2017 at 4:38 pm //

        What you see at the outset of this article is an animated GIF running at some percentage less than real time. EVEN SO, I defy you to utter the word “one” from the time Ray, who has already pump-faked once, releases the ball to the time you say Johnson commits both feet and jumps. Is there time left to bat your eyelash prior to contact? Better yet, if you have the game on PVR, as I do, or can otherwise re-watch this play in REAL TIME, you may gain a finer appreciation for the speed at which plays like this happen. The QB WAS hit in the head. It SHOULD HAVE been called for rough play. Why Trestman didn’t challenge the play surprised me then and is still puzzling unless he was out of challenges.

        Was it violent? Check. Brutal? Yep. Could easily have caused an injury? Oh yes. However, what is farcical is that Madani, Suitor, you, and others are using words that ascribe malicious intent above and beyond the agreed upon rough nature of football for a play that happened so incredibly fast and had mitigating circumstances (Ray tripping and falling to the turf).

        This is real time speculation at its finest.

  25. Solara2000 // July 14, 2017 at 2:32 pm //

    While the hit was to the head, I think in fairness Ray was already on his way down. Penalty I don’t know, but let’s say it was and a call missed. But to allege that is proof the CFL does not care about the safety of its players is ludicrous. Yes maybe the officials are not good enough. Yes maybe the League needs full-time professionals. Yes it seems to be a recurring complaint. But it isn’t new. I am sure there are calls and no-calls fans from every team can point to over the past many, many years – my favourite is the 1981 double interference call involving Tony Gabriel – can’t say ever saw another double interference call since.

  26. Arash is completely correct; the hit was a penalty and inexcusable, but entirely expected, that the bush league refs missed it. So I’m struggling to find out what the actual objection to the article some of the league’s backers here have. Sad that they can’t articulate a real argument and instead resort to ad hominem attacks.

  27. Director of Officiating, Mr. Glen Johnson has had plenty of time and seen more than enough warnings to initiate a new direction. Perhaps a new Chief is necessary to bring new ideas and action into place. This league needs top grade officiating

  28. I refereed amateur football for 10 years and learned two very important things were always be in position and never throw a flag unless you see the whole foul. Better to let a marginal foul go than ruin a play with a flag that shouldn’t have been thrown. There are way too many flag happy officials in the CFL who think the fans are there to see them and they want their 15 minutes of fame. I think they are being taught to throw as many flags as they can!

  29. Clean hit imo, if Ray wasn’t already on his way down then That blow would have been to the body. Johnson didn’t lead with his helmet at all, so malicious intent or not, the hit is clean. Football is a violent game, everyone that plays at this level knows the risks that come with playing.

  30. Al Germaine // July 14, 2017 at 5:10 pm //

    Really? The NFL has part-time officials?

    Yep. They all work “day” jobs during the week and the offseason. Some are involved in college football officiating. Referee Gene Steratore officiates college basketball and runs a sanitary supply company. Ed Hochuli is an attorney. So is Clete Blakeman.

  31. CFL refs are garbage. I’ll get it right!

  32. So let me get this straight
    The league sucks cause a qb was hit and this guy thinks it should have been a penalty therefor the NFL is better than the cfl and our refs suck bla bla bla
    Officiating is judged in every sport
    I see the same missed calls all the time in the NFL
    NHL and MLB have bad calls all the time and no one cares half the time

    People need to move on and get over themselves
    Blaming refs for reasons why not to like the league is a bush league response
    Those fans and writers can take a lap

    Lol this guys a joke

    Hit looked worse than it probably was

  33. Pretty hard to take a Madani authored story seriously when he can’t even call a Canadian University football game without using American terminology? Had the flag not been thrown on the kick return, you can bet that Winnipeg would have challenged to get the td off the board as the score was close at the time. If the official in question doesn’t throw the flag, he would have been marked down for lack of a flag.
    I would like to see Madani and even Suitor stand in the heat of the game and make the calls they claim should have been made? A tad quicker when you are standing in the middle of the action and have to make such decisions in real time than sitting in the press box or at home with your 60″ big screen to watch on!!

  34. I guess Arash hasn’t seen the Argonauts schedule the last few seasons, about time they caught a break.
    No sympathy for Ottawa on that front.

    • Glenner // July 16, 2017 at 7:06 pm //

      There’s no eye for an eye here. Three games in eleven days for any team should never happen!

  35. Ben Major has been a major disappointment as a head ref. Not knowing the downs is something one sees a rookie official miss at the atom orbpeewee level- not high school. Not CIS. …and certainly not pro level football.

  36. Lautario // July 15, 2017 at 11:48 am //

    for over 20 years fans have been complaining about the poor quality of CFL officiating. Sports fans all watch multiple leagues – CFL, NFL, NHL, etc. Only the CFL receives this level on criticism. Every week – for years now – poor officiating had decided games,whether a marginal call or a minor in fraction 60 yards away from the play, it seems the CFL just does not understand that fans ant to watch the players play not the flags fly. Officiating is meant to keep the game FAIR not to call every possible penalty.

  37. Yes the call on Ray was missed. But this is click-bate on behalf of 3 Down and Arash. To say the league doesn’t care about player safety is a joke. Especially when we see what IS called these days. It’s a physical sport. These things happen at every level of football. I have no idea why Madani is on this site except to stir up shit and continue his attack against the league. The CFL never comments on suspensions or fines the day after the game. Real fans and reporters know this.

    • Humber River // July 16, 2017 at 1:15 am //

      Well said! Arash is Rogers #1 paid lapdog in trashing the CFL. Having him here is like inviting a wolf to watch your sheep.

      Bad move, 3 down nation.

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