Sure it’s Super Bowl weekend, but a lot of people are already talking about that. So why don’t we talk about the Canadian Football League instead – at least for a few minutes? February 12 has been a fairly significant date for the CFL throughout its history, with league meetings often held on and around that time and rule changes proposed during the gatherings.
And that’s what brings me to today’s topic.
Remember the cussing and discussing that took place when the Canadian Football League and XFL had their brief flirtation? CFL traditionalists feared if there was a merger, the three-down game would become a four-down game, and maybe instead of 12 to a side contests would be 11 on 11.
And even though that alliance is no longer a hot topic, last December TSN’s Farhan Lalji and Dave Naylor reported that the CFL would be reviewing all aspects of the game during the offseason, including the number of downs.
Well guess what?
Back in 1975 the CFL was presented with rules options that would give the circuit a major makeover, and one of them was 11-man lineups.
On January 4, 1975, the Canadian Press reported that “sweeping changes” to the CFL were being advocated by some within the league’s power structure. Once discussed, they would be officially presented to the rules committee during league meetings on January 7.
Rule alterations up for debate were:
* Eleven man lineups instead of 12.
* One or two-point conversions following a touchdown, replacing the PAT.
* Runbacks of successful field goals that would nullify the three points scored if the ball is returned out of the end zone.
* Unlimited blocking on punts and field goals.
* Rosters increased from 32 to 33, adding another Canadian National player.
CFL Commissioner Jake Gaudaur said the rules were discussed during a meeting of the American Football Coaches Association and there were 36 revisions in all, although he wouldn’t elaborate on what they were. He added that all nine CFL clubs would be involved in the decision-making process and whatever changes were made would have to be approved at the league’s annual meeting in February.
Ottawa Rough Riders general manager Frank Clair said he was optimistic the CFL would go to 11-man lineups “soon” and Montreal Alouettes GM Bob Geary told the Canadian Press he was in favor of most of the proposals, especially the change to 11-man football.
“The way it is with the scientific defenses today, they’re so strong that the offense is stumbling in the dark,” Geary said. “The rule would make for a more wide-open game with our wide field.”
Man, I’ll bet this was quite the conversation starter when the news came out. I was too caught up in the World Football League (and didn’t have access to a lot of CFL news in Birmingham) to know about this when it happened, but a couple of the innovations would’ve really excited me.
The most creative, of course, is the field goal negation. That might be one of the most extreme rule changes I’ve ever heard of in tackle football and I absolutely love it.
At the time, CFL end zones were still 25 yards deep, and with the goal posts on the goal line that gave a returner plenty of running room. Now I’m sad I never got see a team kick a game-winning field goal as time expired only to see it wiped out by the lone deep man.
I’m sure I’m in the minority for liking this so much, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
The second change was eliminating the extra point in favor of a run or pass for one or two points.
I like to think they got this idea from the WFL’s “action point,” but even if they didn’t, tiered conversions via a run or pass are exquisite. They’ve become common in modern spring alternative football leagues.
So what happened?
There were quite a few changes – some relatively dramatic – but none as game-changing as dropping a player or wiping a field goal off the board.
The CFL executive committee approved:
* Unlimited blocking above the waist only on punts and missed field goal runbacks.
* Two point conversion option. The ball is spotted on the five yard line and the offense can kick an extra point or run or pass for two.
*A new option following successful field goals. The team scored upon can require the team having just scored the field goal to go back to their own 35 and kick as they would in a kickoff.
* New ball placement after a single. Instead of the ball coming out to the 25, it now comes to the 35.
* New timing rules for the last three minutes of each half. Whenever the ball changes hands during that time period, the clock doesn’t start until the snap of the ball.
“When I saw all the proposals, I thought it was all a bunch of corn,” Edmonton quarterback Tom Wilkinson told the Edmonton Journal. “But the rules they went for, well, they’re good. It’s going to make it more entertaining. No doubt about that.”
Defensive end Ron Forwick agreed, even though they’d make his job more difficult.
“I liked the rules the way they were before, but I think I like these better,” Forwick said. “I’ll tell you one thing, they’ll be tough on the defenses this year..”
The changes were made official on February 20, 1975.
“I really believe that some of the changes, especially the option on the converts and blocking on the punt returns, will have a definite impact on the entertainment aspect of the game,” Gaudaur said.
One of the reasons I enjoy the CFL is because of its rules, but as the league moves forward stakeholders will do what’s necessary to increase fan interest. Proposals large and small are presented every year, and whatever changes are made, I’ll give them a chance.
But If I ever have a chance to see a field goal go from good to no good all because of a runback, that’ll be one of my greatest gridiron thrills.