If you are upset about the Will Hill decision, you haven’t been paying attention

The CFL handed down its punishment to Will Hill for his incredibly boneheaded decision to put his hands on an official during the team’s 37-20 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and people are not happy that he was only suspended one game.

Prior to the ruling, everyone seemed to have an opinion on how long Hill should be suspended and those expectations that people set themselves is why they are angry today.

But the problem with all of this is that it completely ignores the precedent that has been set in the CFL, and elsewhere, for contacting an official and Hill’s punishment fits with what has come before.

Just last year, Hamilton was in a similar boat when Kent Austin made contact with an official in a game against Saskatchewan. Austin was fined $10,000 and banished to the press box for one game. There was plenty of debate as to what Austin’s penalty should have been. Austin may have gotten off light, but it sets the benchmark for what the league thinks is appropriate discipline in a case such as this.

If Austin was only suspended one game, the league would have a hard time justifying a longer suspension for a player in a similar incident. It would spark a whole round of “why are coaches getting off lighter than players” and that is a can of worms the league does not want to open.

But even if you think that Austin’s and Hill’s transgressions are different for whatever reason, then let’s take a look back at former Edmonton Eskimos receiver Ed Hervey, who twice had on-field run-ins with officials.

Hervey once threw a ball at an official in anger after a touchdown was called back, but his most famous on-field incident with a ref took place during the 2003 Labour Day Classic. During a fracas on the sideline, Hervey swung his helmet and hit an official in the head. The ref was not his intended target, but that should not matter. He was attempting to use his helmet as a weapon and that should never be tolerated. His punishment for his lapse in judgment: a one-game suspension, handed out by the team, not the league.

If we look outside the CFL bubble, a couple of famous player-official altercations occurred in both Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. If you were around at the time, it will be hard to forget when Roberto Alomar spit in umpire John Hirschbeck’s face in 1996. Alomar’s punishment for that: five games. More recently we saw Calgary Flames defensemen Dennis Wideman plow into a referee during a game in 2016. He initially received a 20-game suspension, which was reduced to 10 games on appeal. Those suspensions constitute about 1/30 of an MLB season and 1/8 of an NHL one. A comparable suspension in the CFL would be between half a game and two games. Where did Hill’s suspension fall? Right in the middle.

I also saw the phrase “make an example of” used a lot to justify a longer suspension for Hill, and while no one is going to argue that Hill didn’t deserve to be suspended, this is not an instance in which an example needs to be set. I had to go back almost 14 years to find another example of a CFL player aggressively contacting an official, and it didn’t become open season on refs after Hervey was suspended just one game. The argument that officials are now in danger is a ridiculous one.

If the league wants to start setting examples, it should start with headshots and intent to injure, like when Khalif Mitchell attempted to de-limb Eskimos lineman Simeon Rottier back in 2012.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKTCH8ckBMM&w=560&h=315]

Or someone like Kyries Hebert, who thought he was Stan Hanson and clotheslined Jon Cornish back in 2014.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tydbhv-f6tk&w=560&h=315]

The league suspended Mitchell for two games, and Hebert was fined, but not suspended, for his hit on Cornish. A hit, I might add, that pretty much ended Cornish’s career (he played in just 17 games after that hit and retired following the 2015 season). If you want to start making examples, start with those guys. Dangerous hits are more worrisome than official abuse. We see way more of the former and a lot less of the latter.

Also, we have a new commissioner who just started the job on Monday and his first major act was deciding Will Hill’s punishment. No matter what he did he was going to anger a segment of the CFL fan base, but the one thing he did not want to do was look foolish in his first act as commissioner. Suspending Hill for an unprecedented amount of games only to see that suspension reduced on appeal, which it would have been, would do just that. It would make it look like he bit off more than he can chew and doesn’t understand how the league operates. Ambrosie has done everything right since being named commissioner and handing out a one-game ban to Hill furthers that winning streak.

No one is saying what Hill did was in any way acceptable; what he did was completely inappropriate and he was rightly punished for it. But anyone that was expecting more than what Hill got was fooling themselves and hasn’t been paying attention.

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