Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says CFL considering changes after Bridge hit

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says there’s a possibility the league could make changes in time for this weekend’s playoff games that would involve using the command centre to help identify clear hits to the head but a more likely scenario will see the league examine the issue in the off-season.

Ambrosie spoke to Regina-based radio host Jamie Nye on Monday, one day after Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Brandon Bridge took a helmet-to-helmet shot from Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat in the late stages of the Riders’ loss in the West semifinal.

Video courtesy of TSN.

Bridge was forced to leave the game – he was clearly feeling the effects of the hit – and David Watford took over for the game’s final play, a desperation heave that was intercepted by Winnipeg sealing a 23-18 victory.

Ambrosie said he’s been discussing the issue and possible solutions with team presidents today and has a meeting the Board of Governors scheduled for tomorrow. But Ambrosie says he can’t move unilaterally to address the issue.

“It’s not just a snap of the fingers. I’m not the emperor of the Canadian Football League, as much as that is a very nice sounding title. The commissioner has a responsibility to be collaborative and talk to the teams and to create buy in,” Ambrosie said. “How quickly can we do it? I’m not sure. If we don’t get it done before the playoffs are completed and the Grey Cup is played, we absolutely have to talk about this in the offseason as part of the rules committee process.”

Ambrosie has acted quickly before. He altered the replay rules last season, reducing the number of coaches’ challenges from two to one and the league changed the rules surrounding touchdown celebrations last week, just days after Ottawa Redblacks offensive lineman Jon Gott guzzled a beer after a score.

“One thing we have to do is talk about how we might use the command centre. That we can get it done for the weekend, I’m not sure but I’m personally committed to having this conversation with our teams and the rules committee,” Ambrosie said. “We have to find a way to do this better.”

This is hardly the first time the league has missed a clear headshot this season: there have been several others like this one on Travis Lulay or this one on Mike Reilly or this one on Bo Levi Mitchell. Bridge was only starting because Riders pivot Zach Collaros was still feeling the effects of a hit from Lions defensive end Odell Willis that also went unflagged.

Despite those incidents, Ambrosie defended the league’s record on player safety.

“If you look at the totality of what we’ve done on player safety – eliminating padded practices, changes to the schedule to get players more rest, all the actions we’ve taken to deal with hits –  all of those things form a big picture. Anyone can take one thing and make that the issue, personally I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “I think the fair thing is to look at the total body of work which I am exceptionally proud of.”

Ambrosie also said discussions have to take place with the CFL players association and that current discipline process, which sees a gradual escalation of punishments, may need to be re-examined.

“I think in this case we need to talk to the players this winter about just setting a whole new high bar and changing the way we think about it. I am absolutely prepared to have that conversation, but I know it has to be done as partners,” he said “We can’t just unilaterally take action because interestingly enough when I talked to Odell Willis he said ‘commissioner tell me what I should’ve done differently’. And we talked it through and he said OK that’s fair, now that I understand what you’re thinking I’m better able to think about what I might do differently next. It’s got to be a process.”

Ambrosie said he recognized that fans in Saskatchewan were upset by the way their season ended: with their top two quarterbacks on the sideline with head injuries that went unflagged by CFL officials.

“I accept that yesterday was a disappointment and I think fans should be frustrated with the way that game ended,” he said. “But I give you all my word I’ll do everything I can to make this game better and stronger and earn the respect of the fans.”

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