Effectiveness of CFL rule changes rests with league’s conservative coaches

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders/Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

Some time has now passed since the CFL announced nine rule changes for the 2022 season.

Upon first glance, I thought most of the changes put forward by the league were pretty good, welcomed even. But, I decided to take some time to sleep on it and reflect a little deeper on what some of these changes could mean for the CFL and just how impactful they might be.

Overall, I get what the league is trying to accomplish, but like most rule changes in sports, it’s going to come down to how the league’s coaches react and adapt to them.

There was a time when the NHL thought four-on-four was the answer to the league’s overtime woes, and it worked for a brief period of time before coaches — as usual — figured out how to suck the fun out of it and play defence.

There are plenty of examples of this throughout time and across many sports.

Frankly, the CFL coaching staffs right now haven’t exactly proven to be the most exciting or revolutionary bunch. That’s a thought that was recently backed up by University of Alberta’s head coach Chris Morris.

In fairness, this isn’t just a CFL thing. It’s a common trait amongst coaches in basically all team sports.

Of the league’s new rule changes, the one that is asking for coaches to get boring and conservative is the alteration to the no-yards penalty.

Starting this season, any and all no-yards penalties will now be 15 yards, instead of 15 yards if the returner catches the ball and five yards if the ball hits the turf.

In theory, I get what the league is trying to accomplish. They are clearly attempting to punish cover units and special teams coaches who have made a habit of not concerning themselves with an additional five-yard penalty if it prevents a significant return.

That’s good. Nothing wrong with trying to do that.

However, there’s no incentive for the league’s returners to catch the ball and run now. How many exciting returns can you actually remember that began with the ball picked up off the turf? The odd one off of the bounce, perhaps.

With this change, there’s little reason for special teams coaches to train their returners to catch the ball on the run unless the situation in front of them seems absolutely perfect. Just try and draw the no yards call and gain a few more yards that way.

Could kicking teams adjust by training their punters to get down the field faster or leaving a player onside? Absolutely and I’d love to see it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Giving conservative coaches an option to play things more conservatively is rarely a way to make the game more exciting.

Some of the other rule changes might take a little more work, but I trust coaches will find a way to make them as safe as possible.

I could be wrong. In fact, I really hope I’m wrong and things open up for everyone’s sake. Recent history doesn’t give me much hope.