How the CFL can reduce the number of punts

Believe it or not, the CFL actually has a pretty decent opportunity next season.

In a perfect world, we all would have preferred that the CFL played some kind of season this year. Instead, we’re stuck in an abyss without our favourite league due to the economic devastation caused by COVID-19.

So, what’s the upside? Well, the league has a rare opportunity to reinvent itself. Leagues almost never have a chance to reboot their game and their brand.

The NHL had a shot following their year-long lockout and they came back with all kinds of rule changes and a commitment to calling the ones in the book. There were growing pains, sure, but it made the game better.

The CFL could do the same.

One idea that started bouncing around my dumb brain recently came courtesy of Mike, co-host of Podskee Wee Wee, a Ticats podcast found here on this very website. He tweeted about a guy he talked to about the CFL. This guy doesn’t watch the CFL because there are too many punts.

This guy isn’t entirely wrong — punting sucks. No offence to punters and long snappers — they’re people, too. But, punting really sucks. Not just in the CFL, but in any football league.

Yes, punt returns are exciting, but do they happen often enough to justify the number of punts we see in a given year? This feels like a sacrifice worth making.

So, what can we do? We’re obviously not going to remove punting from the game altogether. As fun as it would be to force teams to go for it every time on third down, it wouldn’t be fair to outlaw punting entirely.

The first thing that comes to mind is taking it out of coaches’ hands. As a group, football coaches are notoriously conservative. While that might be good for things like winning football games — sometimes, anyway — it’s often the least entertaining option, which is really what matters here.

What can we do about that? Ban punting once you’ve crossed mid-field. Punting from deep in your own territory is fine, but punting from the opponent’s 53? That’s boring.

There should be a rule against taking delay-of-game penalties to get back to your side of the field, too. Once you cross the 55-yard line, no punting — no matter how far back you go after. You have to try and stay one step ahead.

That doesn’t do it for you? How about we give teams a certain number of punts they’re allowed to use per game, just like timeouts. It would make coaches think about things if they were starting to run low on punts and aren’t deep in their own territory.

This would also add an extra wrinkle of strategy that is always fun to talk about the next day. A slew of coaches struggle with clock management — figuring out when to punt and when not to would be another level.

My final idea comes courtesy of Ranny Nanni of Banner Society. He wrote a couple of years ago about punting costing the kicking team a point. From a CFL perspective, this would essentially be a reverse rouge. Nanni lays out a pretty strong argument for the reverse rouge in his piece. Anything that makes coaches think about punting is good in my books.

Of course, there are always “normal” things the CFL could do to reduce punting, like allowing teams to run more tempo like in the NCAA. The ref puts the ball down, gets the heck out of the way, and let’s go. Putting defences in tougher spots usually leads to more first downs.

Punting could also be reduced by moving to four downs, but I’m not going there.

So, there you have it. This is how we could reduce the scourge of punting and be better off for it.

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