Every year the CFL reviews its rules and discusses new proposals in an attempt to explore ways to improve what is already one of the fastest and most entertaining pro sports in North America. It is a tricky process; there is a balance to be found between new and innovative ideas, and maintaining the integrity of the game. The XFL, which was a disaster, is a good example of what can happen if rules are altered without consideration for the game's history and tradition.
This year at CFL Congress the rules committee spent two days discussing - and at times debating - all the new proposals and ideas put forward. This year, some of those ideas came from the fans themselves. It is a long, drawn out process that the eleven-member committee takes very seriously, and this year they came up with a handful of rule changes - all of which find that balance between improving the entertainment value of the game while maintaining its integrity. Three in particular are intriguing, and if pushed through by the board of governors, should alter coaches' strategy and may very well alter game outcomes.
1. Field goals and touchdowns will be treated the same, in that, the team scored against has two options: To kick off or receive. There will no longer be an option to take the ball on the 35-yard line after field goals.
Analysis: This subtle rule change will give a team that is behind in the late stages of a game an even greater chance to make a dramatic comeback. One of the strengths of the CFL is that you can score quickly and often. This rule change would enhance that opportunity and could very well lead to even more come-from-behind wins. For instance, imagine your team has just kicked a field goal with under a minute to go to get it to a six-point deficit. No longer would the opposition be able to take the ball on the 35-yard line and take a knee three times to end the game. Now there is a chance for an onside kick, and a game-winning drive in the dying seconds, all of which is very exciting for the fans with virtually no down side.
2. After giving up a safety, the ensuing kickoff will be taken from the 25-yard line instead of the 35-yard line.
Analysis: Again a subtle change that could have a big impact on a coach's decision to give up a safety. In 2008 the average kickoff traveled 60 yards and the average return was 21.2 yards, which means the average start position for the offence was their own 36-yard line. If the ball is kicked from the 25-yard line after a safety, the average starting field position for the return team would now be the 46-yard line. That essentially means if a coach gives up two points he is one first down away from giving up at least another three on a field goal, which would be a five point swing. Last year giving up a safety became automatic when a team was backed up inside the 20-yard line. A change like this should at least make a coach consider punting it out of his end zone and hope his defence comes up with a big play. Plus, a punt from the end zone has all kinds of potential for excitement from both teams' perspective.
3. No longer will the quarterback have to be the player to line up in a position to take the snap from the centre. The quarterback can now line up anywhere on the field.
Analysis: First of all, before we look at the reason this change will be favourable for both the teams and the fans, let's not steal the terminology from the NFL. Due to the fact that bears are a prominent form of wildlife in Canada - as are cougars and bobcats - I would like to suggest "The Bear Cat Formation" rather than the "Wildcat Formation," as it is currently called in the U.S...but I digress. This rule change could make for some offensive innovation that will take defences some time to adjust to, and could make an even bigger impact in the CFL than it did last year in the NFL, due to our athletic quarterbacks. With unlimited motion, quick tremendous athletes who can line up anywhere, and a 65-yard wide field, it all adds up to scoring possibilities never before seen by offences in football.
The game is sound and has 100 years of history behind it, and the proposed rule changes for 2009 do not in any way disrespect that tradition. They do however add excitement to what is already the most fast-paced brand of football played in North America.