The Canadian Football League will add an extra official to the field for the rest of the playoffs to watch for any blows delivered to the head or neck of a quarterback.
The development comes after Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Brandon Bridge was hit late in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s West semi-final loss to Winnipeg. Bridge was rocked by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jackson Jeffcoat, who was not penalized as the head referee’s view was blocked on the play.
If the extra official sees an illegal blow that has not already been flagged, they will advise the head referee, who can then assess a penalty for roughing the passer, the league said Thursday.
“It is very important that this sort of potentially dangerous play is penalized on the field in addition to being subject to supplementary discipline,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “Not only is it important to the integrity of the game, it can act as a deterrent. That is why we are adding an additional set of eyes, with a strictly limited but well-defined mandate, to our officiating crew.
“No system is fail-safe and no human is incapable of error. And nothing we do on player safety should be held up as the ultimate solution. Our approach must constantly evolve. But we believe this is a step forward. We will continue to look for ways to not only penalize dangerous play but, more importantly, prevent it.”
On Thursday, the league handed Jeffcoat the maximum fine allowed for the hit.
At a team availability on Tuesday, Bridge said that he underwent concussion testing following the hit, but was feeling better and could have played this weekend if the Roughriders had won.
The Blue Bombers will visit the Calgary Stampeders in the West final on Sunday while the Ottawa Redblacks will host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the East crown.
The extra official, who will be positioned in the offensive backfield near the umpire, will have no other responsibilities and cannot suggest or call a penalty for other infractions. The league said it will discuss the change in the off-season with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association and the league’s rules committee, officials and governors.
“We’d like to think that the recent attention given to player safety can prompt a change for the better,” said CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay. “However, it’s what is not being talked about that concerns our members. If the league and team management were really serious about improving player safety, they would agree with our long-held complaint that the league’s 11-person rules committee has only one player representative. The other 10 are all appointed by league management.
“That committee should and does have the power to set the rules and standards that have a direct impact on player safety. Moreover, players should have an equal voice on that committee. Currently, that isn’t happening, which only raises questions in our minds about the real priority given to player safety.”
Hamilton head coach June Jones said it’s something the CFL should’ve looked at implementing after the season.
“Everybody has played by the same rules and now you’re going to change it and put it into somebody else’s hands,” he said.
The Grey Cup is set for Nov. 25 at Edmonton.
With files from Dan Ralph in Hamilton