Apologies no longer enough: it is time to overhaul the command centre

It is déjà vu all over again as we sit here a couple days after some controversial calls went against the Ticats and the CFL is once again forced to apologize for an officiating error.

This time it was a challenge by Argos head coach Marc Trestman for pass interference on S.J. Green by Demond Washington.

The officials on the field did not throw a flag, so Trestman challenged hoping to have the play, which resulted in an interception by Courtney Stephen, reversed. His challenge was successful and many were stunned, such as Glen Suitor, who was calling the game at the time and said on the broadcast after the successful challenge that it was “the worst call I’ve seen all year.”

And it looks like Suitor is correct as the league has now come out and said the call was wrong and that it did not meet the league’s standard for pass interference.

Great! But it still does nothing to change the outcome of the game, a 43-35 overtime loss by the Ticats that put a major dent in the team’s playoff hopes.

But this is nothing new in Tigertown, as we have seen this song and dance before. Multiple times, in fact.

In a late-season game against the Ottawa Redblacks in 2015, the Ticats had a possible game-altering interception return for a touchdown by Brandon Stewart called back because of a “tourist hit” penalty on Craig Butler and a low block by Simoni Lawrence. The touchdown would have put the Ticats up 13-12 in a game they would go on to lose 12-6. A couple days later, the CFL admitted the calls were wrong.

Fast forward about 11 months and the Ticats centre Mike Filer get assessed a “moving the ball” penalty in a game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This call made Kent Austin fly into a rage and accidentally make contact with an official. Austin was pseudo-suspended for one game for the incident. Oh, and league later admitted the call was wrong.

Not a month later, and the Ticats are once again playing the Redblacks and a play that is initially ruled a catch and fumble by Greg Ellingson is changed to an incomplete pass by the command centre. The change in call allows the Redblacks to kick a field goal in a game they would win 30-29. The league later admitted they blew that one as well.

Then we get to the most recent before last Saturday, the East Semi-Final between the Ticats and Eskimos is a tight contest. Late in the game, with the score tied Hamilton’s Brandon Revenberg is called for holding and Odell Willis lays a late hit on Zach Collaros that goes uncalled. The Ticats challenge and the non-call is upheld. Collaros throws an interception on the next play and the Eskimos kick what would be the winning points to win the game 24-21. A couple days later, you guessed it, the CFL admitted both calls were wrong.

If you are sensing a pattern here, good. That’s a not a coincidence. This is becoming a more than yearly thing. Refs and/or the command centre screws up, league apologizes, wash, rinse, repeat. I look forward to us doing this all again next year. (I most certainly do not look forward to that.)

The time for apologizing came and went three mistakes ago, so while the league admitting it was wrong is great and all, it really does nothing to fix the problem. And yes, there is very clearly a problem. Bad calls happen, and for the most part we can live with that. It will never be perfect and I don’t think any reasonable person expects it to be perfect, but it can be better. And after another instance where a team’s season could be altered it is now time for action. The league must do something about a system that has produced this many major mistakes against just one team over the last 23 months.

For starters, the league needs to get new blood in the command centre. I do not like to call for people to lose their jobs, but time and again the people in the command centre get things wrong and if anyone else made this many mistakes at their job, myself included, we would be looking for a new place of employment. The current set up does not work, and fans will continue to lose faith in the command centre getting the call right if things stay the same.

Secondly, while the move to one challenge is one I support, there needs to be a mechanism in place to allow for more challenges. A coach should not lose a challenge if they get it right. Too many challenges wasn’t the problem, the fishing expeditions that came with the inclusion of pass interference and illegal contact becoming challengeable was.

And that brings me to my final change: get rid of pass interference and illegal contact as challengeable plays. I thought the league was being proactive in trying this out, but four seasons after introducing it, the challenges aren’t fixing egregious missed calls, they are becoming about finding small things to negate game-altering plays. I don’t blame coaches for taking every advantage they can to win, but like a child who tries to eat his Play-Doh, if you can’t play with it properly, you don’t get it anymore. Coaches have proven they cannot be trusted when it comes to challenging penalties, so penalties should not longer be challengeable.

These are just a few suggestions to fix the problems that plague CFL officiating and, more importantly, the command centre and challenge system. I am sure other people have other ideas, but regardless, something needs to change and if we are sitting here a year from now having this same conversation, the league has failed.

Randy Ambrosie has done almost everything right since taking over as commissioner, but being a leader in fixing a tremendously broken review system and command centre might be his toughest task, but also his most important.

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