If there’s an ironic element to Kent Austin’s recent sideline incident and subsequent removal from the sidelines, it’s this: he’s actually been better at controlling his emotions this season.
I say this from both personal experience – I’m the guy who gets to ask the first question after most losses – and from chatting with CFL officials who deal with Austin on a game-by-game basis. It became a point of emphasis in Austin’s fourth year at the helm when he came to realize his conduct was having a negative impact on his team.
But all that hard work was undone in a single moment last Saturday when Austin made inadvertent contact with an official after what the league has quietly admitted was a terrible call late in Hamilton’s loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. By earning his second rebuke in as many years for sideline conduct – remember the Stala bump? – Austin will carry his hothead reputation for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of reputations, it’s clear that Jeffery Orridge has elected to pursue the “measured and methodical” mantle for his reign as commissioner. He passed up the opportunity to make a strong, declarative statement by fully suspending Austin for a game while trying to up the ante beyond another meaningless fine. Whether this decision is seen as reasonable middle ground or hapless waffle will depend on how history ultimately views Orridge’s time at the helm.
But this certainly feels like a compromise. The league’s methodical pace could have been an indication that the CFL was seriously considering a suspension while Orridge’s exhaustive consultation with all the stakeholders – including Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell – likely meant there was significant push back against anything beyond a fine.
Commissioner is essentially a political appointment, one dependent on the support of the league’s board of governors. Nearly two years into his term, having made, at best, minimal gains on key issues like support for the Argos and sagging TV ratings – and having angered the Riders over roster-gate – it’s reasonable to ask just how far Orridge was willing to push the edges of an envelope that may already feel a little squeezy around the edges.
Which doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. While many players certainly think so – the CFL players’ association called it a “double standard” – a number of on-field officials I spoke to didn’t think a suspension was warranted. If anything, the harsher penalty available to the on-field crew – a 25-yard penalty and an Austin ejection – might have been both the most punitive and appropriate justice of all.
And just imagine what Austin would have had to say about that.
Notes: In effort to shore up their secondary, the Ticats have acquired defensive back Johnny Adams from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Adams was a West Division all-star last season as a boundary corner and has played in five games this season, with 21 tackles and an interception. He’s in the last year of his contract and is rumoured to be interested in trying the NFL next season. In exchange, the Ticats gave up the neg list rights to Mekale McKay, a six-foot-four receiver who was recently cut by the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.