With Will Hill case, Ambrosie faces first test as CFL commissioner

Randy Ambrosie is about to face his first big test as judge, jury and CFL commissioner.

On the docket is Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Will Hill, who was ejected from last Saturday’s game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders for making contact with an official. Replays showed Hill, clearly frustrated about something, grabbing an official following an extra point in the third quarter of Hamilton’s loss to the Riders.

The TSN broadcast didn’t show exactly what set Hill off but on the previous play, Hill clearly takes exception to a block by a Riders offensive lineman, who undercuts him as he attempts to block the kick (Hill blocked two field goals in the opener against Toronto.) The last image we see is Hill taking a swipe at a Saskatchewan player.

Hill was also involved in two other incidents earlier on the same drive. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting a sliding Kevin Glenn – the validity of that call was questioned by TSN broadcasters Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor at the time – then Hill was in the middle of a sideline fracas that netted teammate Brandon Banks another unnecessary roughness call a few plays later. Video of that play appears to show Hill making contact with an official in that instance as well.

Saturday’s contest was just the second of Hill’s CFL career so there isn’t much of a history for Ambrosie to consider though while in the NFL in 2013, Hill was fined more than $15,000 for a hit on a defenceless receiver. There is, however, some recent CFL precedent involving contact with an official.

During the Ticats’ visit to Regina last September, Hamilton head coach Kent Austin made contact with an official while expressing his displeasure with a call. He received a ten-yard penalty but was not ejected from the game but then-commissioner Jeffery Orridge slapped Austin with a $10,000 fine – the stiffest ever handed to a coach – and banished him from the sidelines for a game (Austin watched and called plays from the coaches’ box.)

While the circumstances surrounding the two cases are different – Austin claimed the contact was accidental, an argument Hill likely won’t be able to make – there’s no doubt the CFL Players’ Association will be pointing to the Austin ruling in arguing against a suspension and the league will be accused of a double standard for players if the punishment to Hill is significantly more punitive.

Orridge did, however, suspend receiver Duron Carter, then of the Montreal Alouettes, for a game when he bumped Ottawa Redblacks coach Rick Campbell during a July game last season. Carter and the CFLPA appealed, sparking a long, drawn-out process involving an arbitrator that the league ultimately won. Making contact with an official is certainly more egregious, to use one of the CFL’s favourite terms, and would, by that standard, warrant a more lengthy suspension.

In the NFL, cases involving players making contact with an official are rare. The most notable incident came in 1999 when Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Orlando Brown shoved Jeff Triplette to the ground after being struck in the eye with a flag thrown by the referee. Brown was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, a ban that was later lifted when it became clear the injury Brown sustained as a result was significant (the NFL settled a lawsuit brought by Brown.) He returned in 2002 and played three more seasons.

Ambrosie talked repeatedly at his opening press conference about “celebrating the players” and as a former offensive lineman who played nine years in the CFL, he’ll certainly understand the frustrations that sometimes arise over officiating. As a newly-minted commissioner, he has all his political capital intact – something that couldn’t be said for Orridge by last season – and so he should be free to make a decision that follows his best instincts.

What are those instincts? Well, with his first swing of the gavel, we’re about to find out.

Drew Edwards is the founder of 3DownNation but has since wandered off. Beard in the photo not exactly as shown.