Opinion: CFL should follow NFL’s lead in rule change transparency

Photo: Matt Smith/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

It’s time for the CFL to take a nod from its neighbour to the south and provide fans with more transparency regarding proposed rule changes.

Four rule changes were proposed by teams in the NFL this past week, all of which were outlined in a press release. Each potential change cited the existing rule, a detailed description of the proposed change, and the team that made the proposal.

Proposed rule changes can also be brought forth by the competition committee, which is made up of eight NFL executives, personnel staff, and head coaches. In 2023, the competition committee brought forth eight potential rule changes. Thus far, they’ve not proposed any for 2024.

It’s unclear how the competition committee agrees on proposals or which member(s) initially brought them forth. Regardless, their suggestions are still clearly laid out in an announcement citing the existing rules and the proposed changes.

As of now, the only way for rule changes to take place in the CFL is through the rules committee, which includes the league’s head coaches along with representatives from the Canadian Professional Football Officials Association, the CFL Players’ Association, and the league itself. Nothing the committee proposes is formally announced until shortly before the regular season begins outlining whichever changes have been adopted.

There are occasionally leaks that come from these meetings, as was the case earlier this off-season when TSN reported that the league is considering making changes to its kickoffs in the interest of player safety. The report included the caveat that these were “informal discussions” that would later be formalized during the CFL Combine in Winnipeg, which is scheduled for next week.

Regrettably, the report came one day after each head coach and general manager was made available to the media via videoconference, which meant that none of them were asked questions about the proposed change.

Kudos to TSN for getting the story, but this seems like an area in which relying on anonymous sourcing is not only disadvantageous for the league but also for members of the media and fans across the country.

Remember the four-down fiasco from 2022? After rumours swirled for months that the CFL might switch from three to four downs, it was reported that John Hufnagel, the president and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders at the time, had voted in favour of the change along with the Toronto Argonauts.

Hufnagel later admitted to casting his vote in favour of the change but claimed the story was misconstrued, saying it “wasn’t truly an official vote” and was merely meant to decide whether or not the topic was worthy of further discussion.

To the league’s credit, the nine rule changes that were eventually passed that off-season were formally announced and effectively communicated. Had the rest of the process been more transparent, the league could have saved itself some negative headlines and fans, who were generally against the proposed change, could have been spared some unnecessary anguish.

The CFL has officially been around since 1958, though its roots stem back well over a century. It doesn’t belong to any one person, it belongs to all of us. It’s woven into the fabric of our country.

Rule changes are significant and anyone seeking to alter the three-down game should have to do so in a manner that’s transparent for the game’s stakeholders. The NFL does it and the CFL should follow suit.

Fans shouldn’t get to vote on rule changes, but they certainly deserve more formal communication from the league they so enthusiastically support.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.