CFL’s head of player safety vows changes in wake of Collaros controversy

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the hit and subsequent medical care of Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros, the CFL’s vice president of football operations and player safety addressed what went wrong on Saturday night.

Speaking with CJME radio host Jamie Nye – who is also a contributor to CFL.ca – Kevin McDonald acknowledged officials screwed up the initial call on the field, then didn’t take the necessary steps to get Collaros out of the game when it was clear he was suffering from the after-effects of the hit from B.C.’s Odell Willis.

“We had a minute that we would like to get back. It started out with a call on the field which led to Zach Collaros being knocked to the turf. Clearly, as it relates to our injury spotter there were some visible signs of distress, he was slow to get it up and even when he got to his feet he kind of knelt down a few times and didn’t look quite himself,” McDonald said.

“We would be hopeful that our injury spotter in the heat of the moment would observe those signs and proactively initiate the game stoppage and that didn’t occur on Saturday night. So now we’re looking at our process and how we evaluate that to understand why the stoppage didn’t occur and we’ll use that to get better moving forward.”

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McDonald says the injury spotters are located at the command centre at CFL headquarters in Toronto and have access to the TSN feeds as well as an additional “all-24” shot that allows them to see the entire field at one time. There are five spotters who handle the job on a rotating basis and have either “extensive football playing experience” or a medical background. McDonald acknowledges the spotter should have taken Collaros out of the game on Saturday.

“There was a timeout taken, then the challenge was initiated and as soon as the game stopped, the Riders medical staff immediately got out on the field to have a conversation with Zach and our injury spotter was aware that had occurred,” McDonald said.  “The opportunity for us to intervene up front would have been the best outcome.”

There are also questions as to why the Riders allowed Collaros to continue playing after the hit. The quarterback stayed in for two more plays before being removed from the game after Saskatchewan scored a touchdown.

“I’ve already had extensive conversations with their medical staff and with their president, Craig Reynolds, to review what happened and had we been proactive in getting the injury spotter to intervene there would have been the appropriate time for them to provide a sideline assessment. In the time frame that was presented to the Riders’ medical staff in the timeout, they went through the preliminary steps to an assessment where Zach performed well and they felt, in that setting, how Zach was responding to their questions he was able to continue to play,” McDonald said.

“But I will applaud their staff, once he got to the sideline two plays later they continued with their follow-up assessment and credit to them for making a precautionary choice to take him into the locker room for a more thorough evaluation. At that time, they [decided] let’s err on the safe side as it relates to player safety and take Zach out of the game.”

While there is almost certainly at least a fine coming for Willis – the league is reviewing the play for supplemental discipline – there could also be consequences for Andre Proulx, the referee who missed the call.

“We’ll look at that play in isolation and the merits as to whether it’s a good call or an incorrect call and I think we’d acknowledge that a call was missed so he’d be graded with an “incorrect.”  Moving forward, that gets put into his evaluation as a total body of work and that will be used to determine our assignments as we move forward into the playoffs,” McDonald said.

“Player safety plays are more scrutinized but it’s not always as obvious as a missed play. We have to look at the angle of the play, whether the referee was able to see through the player – Shawn Lemon was in proximity of the play did his body position get in the way. Regardless, there’s no excuse for how those calls get missed but sometimes there are some factors to explain why we didn’t get the desired outcome.”

McDonald said the league considered adopting the NCAA’s approach of using replay to identify shots to the head – including potential ejections – last off-season but ultimately decided against it.

“We did discuss that [last] offseason and I think that we have a commitment this offseason to look at ways we can use the personnel and the technology we have in place to better intervene when making decisions on some of the player safety elements,” he said. “There are some player safety aspects that we could take into our rules committee discussion this offseason to see if your replay official or the video official might be able to intervene and weigh in on some of those items.”

McDonald said the league and commissioner Randy Ambrosie (who has already acknowledged the CFL’s ‘clearly inadequate’ response) remain committed to player safety, despite the challenges they faced on Saturday.

“Ideally, a few things would have happened: we would have had a penalty flag, the injury spotter would have intervened and made a different choice. We acknowledge we made a couple of mistakes, we would acknowledge we would have liked to come out sooner with some information on Sunday morning to address these concerns. So we’ve got some work to do and we’re committed to getting better,” McDonald said.

“Player safety is Randy’s number one priority.”

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