What the CFL can learn from the NHL’s officiating controversy

Photo courtesy: Dominick Gravel

A brave new world is starting to emerge in the world of sports.

Aspects of the game that have lived by various codes or in the dark all together may soon be a way of the past as single game gambling starts to take hold. It’s already legal in the United States and in all likelihood we’ll see similar legislation passed here in Canada as well.

Recently, the NHL fired one of its long-time officials, Tim Peel for getting caught saying he wanted to call a penalty against the Nashville Predators. Since this isn’t a hockey website, I won’t get into the debate raging on in the sport now about make-up calls and whether officials should call the game by the book or manage the game.

What’s clear is beyond the obvious, Peel, who was only a month away from retirement anyway, so it was a firing of convenience as well, was let go because of the optics for gamblers and gambling-related companies.

Whether you support gambling or not, this is going to be a major lifeline for all professional sports over the next few years as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Anything that could affect a gambler’s confidence to bet on games should be taken seriously by any league that takes gambling seriously.

“Right now we are going to see more sponsorships than ever that cross over into the world of betting and gambling. You cannot in any way create an impression that you are fooling around with the product when people are wagering on it,” Sportsnet’s hockey insider Elliotte Friedman told Tim and Friends

Naturally, Friedman was talking about this from an NHL perspective but the thought applies to every sport that is getting into or will be getting into the world of single-game betting.

From a CFL perspective, it starts with some obvious things the league needs to clean up. Most notably, more accurate information when it comes to injuries and game-day depth charts, both of which coaches in this league have been less than 100 percent truthful with over the years.

On the officiating front, the league will have to make sure they continue to work with their officials to set a clear standard on how games are expected to be called, and that standard is stuck to all season, including the playoffs and Grey Cup. Of course, errors will always happen, but the overall standard should not change from game one of the pre-season to the final play of the Grey Cup.

Most importantly, anything that seems to be outside of the standard of any of the above will have to be met with swift and quick consequences. A great example of this happened not too long ago in the NFL, a league that has been taking gambling into account long before the recent explosion.

In both the NFC and AFC Championship games, the officials let plenty of penalties go, seemingly against the standard we had seen most of the season. Two weeks later in the Super Bowl, the calls returned. There is no doubt officials were read the riot act for what happened in the conference championships.

We know the CFL is supportive of potential new gambling legislation, they see it as a big future revenue source. If the three-down league is going to make the most of it, they better be prepared to put in the work that goes with it.