Riders’ brass sidesteps three-down debate, but pleased with ‘productive’ CFL rules meetings

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

CFL leadership discussed a potential switch to four downs during league meetings this week, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ representatives in the room say that fans shouldn’t worry too much about all the rumours flying around.

“We obviously discussed a lot of things throughout the meetings, but the main focus was to try to make our three-down game as fast-paced and exciting as possible,” Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day said. “We’re really just focused on our great game and the great history of the three-down game.”

It was reported in December that the league would be reviewing all aspects of its game, including the number of downs. Sportnet’s Arash Madani was the first to report that the CFL was receiving pressure from its data and technology partner Genius Sports to do away with the iconic three-down game. That claim has been denied by the company. 

The CFL will be moving forward with exploring several other potential rule changes following league-wide talks, but the death of three-down football is reportedly off the table for 2022. No such promises have been made going forward however and the controversy appears to be one that will again hang over the league again in the future.

O’Day said he had no strong feelings either way when pressed for his opinion regarding an Americanized CFL, while Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson explained that he cares only for the league’s prosperity.

“I just want us to be the best we can be. We’ve talked about a lot of things in these meetings and we’ll continue to talk about them all. The idea is how can we be as good as we can possibly be and how can we put the most exciting product that we can on the field,” he explained, noting that four downs was not necessarily the answer to that question.

“We talk about a lot of things and most of the time things are just pushed aside, saying we’re not going to go that way, but we’ve had some really productive meetings and I think you’re gonna see some changes here and there that really enhance what we think is already a really exciting, entertaining game.”

CFL fans across the country would get behind any number of tweaks to increase scoring and excitement, but their stress level remains high that the foundations of the Canadian game might be under threat.

O’Day and Dickenson may offer a more soothing voice on the issue than commissioner Randy Ambrosie, but like many football people around the CFL, they are keeping any strong opinions — one way or another — under wraps publicly. That’s cold comfort to fans until they are formally provided assurances that what was pushed aside behind closed doors will stay there.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.