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CFL: choice of kicking chipped or non-chipped football up to teams


Should Toronto's home opener come down to a game-deciding field goal try, the Argonauts will have a say regarding what football kicker Lirim Hajrullahu uses.

The CFL announced Friday that effective immediately, teams will determine before each game whether their punters and kickers will play with its chipped football or a non-chipped one. Whatever decision is made will apply to both specialists.

The ruling follows Winnipeg kicker Sergio Castillo's criticism of having to play with a chipped ball in the Blue Bombers season-opening 27-12 home loss to the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night.

But the league added it will continue using microchip-implanted balls this season and revisit their usage before the 2025 campaign.

"​The league has tested these footballs using robotic technology and current CFL players," commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. "While there is no definitive evidence to suggest their use impacts performance in any manner, we are taking this step out of respect for kickers who do not yet feel comfortable using them."

Castillo missed two-of-three attempts in the game (38, 40 yards) along with a convert. Last season, the 33-year-old made 46-of-51 field goals (club-record 90.2 per cent).

Montreal kicker David Côté made both of his tries (22, 19 yards) but missed a convert.

The CFL has put microchips into its footballs this season to help generate real-time advanced statistics. It had chips in balls for some '23 contests but none were used in kicking situations.

So on Sunday when Toronto hosts the B.C. Lions, both teams will decide which footballs their specialists will use in the contest.

"I think it's the right decision to give us the opportunity (to choose) because it (chip) does affect the ball," Hajrullahu said. "I see the ball has a different flight because the chip is pretty big and it just weighs the ball on the one side or the other.

"So depending on which way the ball is put down on the tee, it's either going to draw right or pull left. We were given the footballs right at training camp so I think we just haven't had the opportunity to work with them more. You put a little mud on a golf ball that's on a green and it's going to move over to that side."

The chips can provide data on ball speed, trajectory and the running speed of ball carriers, receivers and returners. On kicks, it can provide insight regarding the strength of the kick (and how far it might've been good from) and what percentage of successful boots are down the middle or to one side or the other.

But many kickers, including Saskatchewan's Brett Lauther, who's also the vice-president of the CFL Players' Association, took to social media to voice their displeasure with the chipped footballs. Also doing so were kickers Lewis Ward (Ottawa) and Sean Whyte (B.C.) as well as Redblacks punter/holder Richie Leone.

"I think it's fair," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of the CFL's decision. "The kickers really didn't get a chance to do it last year, the quarterbacks did.

"If it affects the way the quarterbacks throw and kickers kick, I think we have to change our approach there."

Hajrullahu said he noticed the chipped footballs carried differently when kicked than those without chips.

"Inside 30, I find if you hit it hard enough it's not going to move as much," he said. "But once you get further out, past like the 35, I can see the ball fading.

"Last week we tried it (kicking chipped balls) and I was mediocre. Then I went back to the normal ball and I was hitting every one."

Hajrullahu gets why the CFL is interested in gathering data, but he feels in their current state the chips are impacting kicking accuracy.

"I have a business background and understand what we're trying to do here to help the league and do everything next level and get these next gen stats, which is great," he said. "But maybe we can figure out something in the future, maybe a smaller chip that will help or balance it.

"But for right now, I'm glad we can make that change and be able to use the balls we've been training all off-season with."

Added Ambrosie: "​Today’s decision in no way impacts our commitment towards the collection and usage of in-game performance metrics. The CFL remains steadfast in its approach of using data to better inform, engage and entertain current and future fans."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2024.