New initiative could finally bring public accountability to CFL officiating

The CFL should be commended for its latest effort to increase transparency and accountability in its decision-making, particularly around officiating. The introduction of a dedicated football operations website and a twitter account to explain in-game decisions from the command centre and educate fans and media on the various issues surrounding the game is, quite frankly, long overdue.

Here’s how it used to work. When a bad/unusual call was made on the field, reporters with Glen Johnson’s phone number (the former vice-president in charge of officiating) would text him looking for an answer. Sometimes you’d get one, sometimes you wouldn’t. Same goes for the inevitable follow up a few days later. Sometimes, the league would inform the impacted team they’d screwed up and the team would leak it to the media. It was chaos and it was no good for anybody, really.

A number of other pro leagues have adopted something similar. The NBA issues a “last two-minute report” detailing the decisions made by officials at the most crucial point of the game. The NFL issues “media officiating videos” that explain key calls from the previous week. Again, accountability and transparency go a long way.

Hopefully, the CFL will both explain calls in the moment and educate media and fans after the fact. They also need to make sure that they acknowledge mistakes when they happen – something that happened less frequently last year after Johnson seemingly grew tired of getting shoved in front of the bus every time.

I have a couple of nitpicky complaints because of course I do. First, I don’t want to see pedantic stuff I can get elsewhere from football ops: a Tweet like this should be coming from CFL communications or any one of the approximately one zillion social media accounts the league seemingly controls.

I want football stuff from football ops, not fluff.

Finally, I question the wisdom of having a member of the team-affiliated media narrate the videos – particularly the ones that will hopefully explain why calls are made. The first set of instructional clips feature a voiceover from Ticats play-by-play man and contributor Marshall Ferguson and while he does a perfectly fine job, the role should be filled by either senior director of officiating Darren Hackwood or vice president of football operations Kevin McDonald (apparently the plan is for Ferguson to do all of them.) The videos in the NFL are narrated by senior vice president of officiating Alberto Riveron.

Again, nothing personal against Ferguson but the optics of having a guy who is so closely affiliated with one team aren’t great. He’s also got officiating opinions of his own and hasn’t been shy about sharing them… (and as the Ticats play-by-play man, he should.)

As always, it will be the execution of this initiative that ultimately determines its value but it’s a great idea and I’m more than happy to give it a chance (and live through the inevitable growing pains.) In my experience, the people involved in officiating want to get it right, try very hard to do so and are far more accurate than they get credit for. Hopefully, these steps will go some way to demonstrating that commitment to the rest of the CFL community as well.

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