CFL Referees Made the Right Call, But Are they Consistent?

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The surprising procedure call last week on Hamilton Tiger-Cats centre Mike Filer came as a shock to almost everyone watching. That call – and Hamilton head coach Kent Austin’s unfortunate reaction – led to a last-second Saskatchewan Roughriders win over Filer and the Ticats. But did the CFL referees make the right call?

The crucial fact to look at is that Hamilton Mike Filer moved the ball forward before snapping it. The rule books (whether you look at the CFL or Canadian Football rules) are clear: the centre can adjust the ball before snapping it, but cannot move it forward.

However, many examples were called up immediately to show that the call isn’t applied consistently. I discussed the issue with Steven Wilson, a referee with three years’ experience with Weyburn Minor Football (follow Steven at @Steve_in_sask.)

Wilson agreed that the call depends heavily on the officials’ discretion. “As it is something a player could do subconsciously, or as a matter of habit, generally, if seen on a first down, the official would mention it to the center,” he suggested. “Subsequent times, a flag would be thrown. On a third down play, it would definitely be flagged.”

In the game in question, Wilson did wonder whether the rule was applied fairly. “It was a close game, Hamilton looking to take the lead, third and inches. Without the call, a blown call means Saskatchewan loses through a missed penalty.”

However, the consistency of whether the penalty is called is a factor as well. “If it happened multiple times during the game and wasn’t called, Hamilton had a right to be upset,” Wilson added.

But why make such a big deal out of it? The center is going to snap the ball back anyway – does a couple of inches forward make any real difference? “Centers are always looking for an advantage,” Wilson pointed out. “The rule itself appears to be designed to prevent a small movement of the ball, with the chance of a ‘bobbled’ snap helping the offence get the easy first down.”

So the call wasn’t completely unjustified; the real question is whether the refs were calling it consistently. CFL referees will need to tighten up on these outlier penalties to maintain the trust of fans – or risk throwing more close games into confusion and doubt.