Three downs or free down?: Montreal QB Trevor Harris advocates for bonus fourth down in negative territory

Rule changes have consumed the offseason conversation in the CFL and that has made veteran quarterback Trevor Harris put his thinking cap on.

The Montreal Alouettes’ pivot joined the Rod Pedersen Show for some friendly rulebook discussions and Harris raised the possibility of an intriguing, rarely discussed change.

“I’m not a proponent of changing from three downs to four downs because I think that’s what makes the Canadian Football League unique. I do think there are possibilities of changing it so maybe one time per series, you get a third down where you don’t have to punt,” Harris said. “Maybe something along the lines of before you get to midfield, you get one fourth down.”

The idea of changing to four downs, reportedly favoured by the CFL’s new data and technology partner Genius Sports, was put to bed for now by commissioner Randy Ambrosie last week. However, Harris’ unique free down proposal would have a similar stimulating effect on offences without the major drawbacks and could raise the stakes of gameplay in certain situations, particularly if paired with the more common fan proposal to limit punting.

“If you’re not allowed to punt the football past midfield, if it’s third and four at the plus-51, there’s a lot of field position and real estate on the line,” Harris remarked.

“Giving yourself an extra down, one time per series before midfield would be an interesting one as well, because then you’re giving the offence a little bit more leeway. I think if you can create better field position for certain teams and make it higher risk, it makes the game a lot more fun.”

After a season in which offensive production dropped like a stone, making games more fun is exactly what the CFL needs. Harris isn’t afraid to think outside the box to make that happen.

“If you look back to the last year or two, I think a lot of the fans are wanting more explosiveness, more offence,” he said. “To me, as an organization, as a CFL, we need more butts in the seats, more eyes on TV screens. I think that’s where we start: how can we alter rules, keep the integrity of the CFL and help diagnose the problems to create the change that we’re trying to get to.”

Given significant fan outrage, the CFL appears content focusing this season’s changes on smaller aspects of the game. Top rule change proposals include narrowing the hashmarks and evening the ratio on both sides of the ball — both changes Harris supports — but he believes his more unconventional suggestion deserves to be heard as well. In fact, no idea should be off limits.

“I know there’s going to maybe be some people that get upset with me and yell and say: ‘Well, you can’t do that because of this,'” Harris laughed. “But it’s fun to talk about and it’s good to get the ideas thrown out there. That’s why no idea is a bad idea.”

On that point, many traditionalists will disagree, suggesting Harris should keep his focus squarely on beating Vernon Adams Jr. for the Alouettes’ starting QB job.