TORONTO — Randy Ambrosie wants players and coaches to decide CFL games on the field, not the replay booth.
The CFL commissioner unveiled a significant rule change Wednesday that, effective immediately, limits coaches to one video review challenge per game. Previously, teams could make two challenges per contest and a third if a coach was successful on his first two.
Ambrosie, hired as CFL commissioner last month, said while visiting eight of the league’s nine stadiums — Regina’s Mosaic Stadium is the only one he hasn’t been to yet — fans made it abundantly clear they’d become frustrated with the number of challenges coaches were making in games.
“This (coaches challenges) seemed to be the item they most often wanted to talk about,” Ambrosie said during a conference call. “A Saskatchewan Roughriders fan this past weekend threatened to have me replaced by Gainer the Gopher (Riders’ mascot) as commissioner if I didn’t fix this problem.
“Clearly, no one wants to be replaced by Gainer the Gopher so I suppose you’ve got to give the fans a fair bit of credit here. The intention here is very clear: We want, as best as possible, the games to be decided on the field by our players and coaches.”
Coaches must still have a timeout to initiate a challenge. If the challenge is unsuccessful, they’ll still lose a timeout.
A coach that’s successful in his challenge gets to keep the timeout but won’t get a second chance to request a review.
The CFL command centre will continue to automatically review scoring plays and turnovers.
The move drew the support of Toronto Argonauts defensive back Jermaine Gabriel.
“Thank you,” he tweeted Wednesday.
Both Ambrosie and Glen Johnson, the CFL’s senior vice-president of football operations, said the original intent of replay reviews was to fix obvious officiating mistakes made during games. But some coaches had resorted to using their challenges as a means to draw penalties that occurred away from the play and wipe out big gains or extend drives.
The abundance of challenge flags not only slowed the pace of games but drastically disrupted the flow of the action.
“At it’s core, the original intent and philosophy was you didn’t want a game to be decided by a significant mistake made on the field by one of our officials … especially the big games,” said Ambrosie, a former CFL player. “The original intent I fully support and endorse.
“This was a problem that needed solving. Ultimately I think we found a very elegant solution, a mid-course correction that can give us a chance to really focus letting the talent on the field decide the outcome of the games.”
Johnson said the change was made to enhance the fan experience, not because game officials had become frustrated by the process.
“We’ve come off the principles of why we’re using replay,” he said. “It really wasn’t about what the officials thought.
“It was just much more about what it was doing to the flow of the game and fan experience.”
Ambrosie said the future of video replay in the CFL will be addressed following the 2017 season.
“At the end of the day if we can’t find the right way to use (video replay) then all options should be on the table, including not using it at all,” Ambrosie said. “I think that’s what you do if you want to have a healthy and full review of a tool like this.
“What we’re trying to bring to this process is just have an open mind to all possibilities and look at them, consider them and be thoughtful in response. We want to make this game as great as we can possibly make it for our fans.”