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Glen Suitor

CFL on TSN Analyst


Driver: "I know I ran the red light, officer but could you let me off on this one because the law has changed, hasn't it?"

Officer: Sorry sir, there has been changes in other traffic violations, but not when it comes to running a red light. That hasn't changed, so I'm going to have to give you a ticket."

Driver under his breath: "This new law sucks - what a jerk!"

We are three weeks into the regular season and fans, players, coaches, and commentators of the Canadian Football League are starting to get frustrated with the amount of penalties.

After 12 games the average is 28.5 penalties per game which is up by 32 per cent from all of last year, where there were 21.6 penalties per game.

The villains, according to the rants on social media, are either the rule changes, or the refs themselves, and the criticism is starting to get turned up a notch.

However, a deeper look into the numbers after 12 games in the regular season tell an interesting story, and maybe will point out that a little short term pain will turn into long term gain.

First, it is true that penalties are up, and I don't think anyone will say that 28.5 penalties per game is okay. However, the 32 per cent increase is compared to last year's total. There has been an increase of just 14 per cent over this time last year. What that shows is that while there is an increase, it is smaller than first thought. Also, historically there are more penalties called early in a football season.

So what about the rule changes which are now starting to be blamed for everything from increased penalties, to the flat tire you got on your way to work. According to league statistician Steve Daniel, there have been 30 illegal contact penalties in 12 games this year and last year at this time there were just nine. But before you give it the "I told you so", understand that the increase in the penalty directly related to the rule changes is not the worst offender this year.

The largest increase in the penalty department from this time last year are in the "preventable penalties," category, like off-side and procedure, which have nothing to do with the rule changes or the refs. A player leaving before the ball is snapped is a pretty straight-forward call to make. It is also one of the most basic fundamentals in the game, especially for offensive players that know the snap count.

There have been 153 preventable fouls, only four of which have been related to a rule change, (illegally down field on a kick). That's 149 of 342 penalties after 12 games. Stop the preventable fouls and you cut the penalty flags virtually in half.   

Also, no one should be surprised that there has been an increase in illegal contact calls. The league, the coaches, the players and the fans knew there would be a learning curve.

The rule change for defensive backs and receivers is drastic, but a much needed change that in the long term will make the game better. The comparable can be made to when the NHL made drastic rule changes to eliminate the clutching and grabbing about 10 years ago. According to our TSN statistician Dave Moir who also does hockey stats, a similar scenario unfolded in the NHL. In the 2003-04 season under the old rules, there were 12,176 minor penalties in 82 games with 30 teams. That is an average of 4.95 per game, per team. In the 2005-06 NHL season, under the new rules there were 15,683 minor penalties or 6.37 per game, per team. That is an increase of 28.8 per cent. That's twice as high as the 14 per cent increase in penalties from this time last year in the CFL.

The moral of that story is everyone knew that learning how to play defence differently was going to take some time, and that we would see an increase in the short term in illegal contact penalties. However, the NHL today is a better game than it was back when the stars where being tackled on the ice, and the CFL should see a similar outcome.

No one likes to see the orange flag on the field, not the fans, players, coaches, or even the refs themselves. When it comes to the new rules, the refs are finding their way like the players, and it will take some time.

However, what we have seen over the last few weeks has very little to do with the new rules, or the officials.

The players have to understand that if they want to stop getting traffic tickets, they have to stop running red lights.