Randy Ambrosie laments ’embarrassing’ public comments by CFL kickers, denies impact on microchip football rule change

Photo: Michael Scraper/CKRM

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie wasn’t thrilled by CFL kickers publicly expressing concerns about microchipped footballs, which led to those players being fined by the league.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be in a situation where we’re embarrassing each other. That doesn’t help the relationship, it doesn’t make us better partners,” Ambrosie told 620 CKRM. “I’d like to stay away from the ‘let’s try to embarrass each other’ stuff and focus on ‘let’s get stuff done together.'”

Winnipeg’s Sergio Castillo spoke out following the Blue Bombers season-opening loss to the Alouettes after missing two field goals, claiming his accuracy was under 60 percent during training camp when using balls with microchips. The nine-year veteran was fined $250 for his comments, while Saskatchewan’s Brett Lauther, Ottawa’s Lewis Ward, and B.C.’s Sean Whyte were fined undisclosed amounts for supporting Castillo on social media.

The league quickly reversed its decision to make microchipped footballs mandatory in the kicking game the day following Castillo and his colleagues speaking out, though Ambrosie denied the statements had any impact on the revised policy: “That’s not what moved the needle.” Instead, Ambrosie pointed to letters he received from Brian Ramsay, CFL Players’ Association executive director, as well as Wade Miller, Bombers president and CEO, and Craig Reynolds, Riders president and CEO, as catalysts for change.

“Those three letters — from Brian, from Wade, and from Craig — they were very compelling, and then (CFL football operations officer) Greg Dick, to his credit, said: ‘Randy, I think we need to make this change and reset this,'” Ambrosie said. “It was the letters from Wade, from Craig, and from Brian that caused us to want to make the change.”

Ambrosie indicated more testing will be done with microchipped footballs going into next season, when the league will revisit its policy. One issue the kickers cited was the USFL using microchipped footballs in 2021, which resulted in accuracy problems with claims of bruised feet and ankles. Though the commissioner was unable to recall the exact size and shape of the microchip currently being used by the CFL, he stated it was “dramatically smaller” than the one the USFL used, which was “a significant number of grams or ounces heavier.”

The 61-year-old Winnipeg, Man. native admitted the league could have gone about introducing its new footballs in a better way, though he remains bullish on what microchipped footballs can do for the CFL moving forward. For one, the data has made the league’s new “augmented live streams” a reality, providing viewers with information that wouldn’t have otherwise been captured without the help of this technology.

“I think it’s about change and you have to do change the right way,” Ambrosie said. “In this particular case, I think the intentions were good. What we know for sure is the technology that we have introduced is going to make our game better. It’s going to make the game more appealing to a new generation of fans. We should want all of that we can get, but we don’t want to take away from player performance.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.