April 12, 2017

You Make The Call | Glen Johnson

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press CFL vice-president of officiating Glen Johnson gave a presentation and answered questions in the Investors Group Field media room Thursday on rule changes for the upcoming season.

Glen Johnson is working a room full of Winnipeg Blue Bomber corporate sponsors and fans – the diehards who shell out big dollars to support the Canadian Football League – in his annual ‘You Make the Call’ officiating clinic.

The Canadian Football League’s Senior VP of Football Operations and long-time referee understands full well how this works; fans are forever grousing about the work of the men in the black-and-white striped shirts. That’s a given in any league in any sport anywhere on this planet.

And so, Johnson knows he’s hardly going to be the most popular man in the room.

Now, in an effort to take the edge off the proceedings and provide a little levity, Johnson’s clinic features a chance for the crowd to make the call on a series of plays. The prizes? Penalty flags – not to be used during a game, he insists – with the grand prize winner receiving a referee’s jersey.

Interestingly, Johnson was back in his hometown on the very same day commissioner Jeffrey Orridge and the CFL announced they have ‘agreed to part ways’, effective June 30th of this year.

Johnson would not speak on that matter during a media availability – his name has been floated as a possible candidate – instead sticking to the script and the goal of his visit: to educate fans and media on rule changes and innovations and on the state of the CFL game as he sees it.

“We’re pretty proud of where the game’s at right now,” Johnson began.

“We think the game itself is in great shape.”

“We made a number of rule changes over the last couple of years to open up our game, to create space on the field, to make the game more exciting, to get more points scored. We believe we’ve accomplished that.”

Among the facts Johnson presented to back up that statement:

  • Scoring is up 7.5 per cent and the highest since 2008;
  • One of every six drives resulted in a touchdown;
  • The second-down conversion rate was at an all-time high of 48.3 per cent
  • Penalties are down 13 per cent
  • Quarterback pass efficiency ratings averaged 98.3 per cent, the highest ever;
  • Average punt return was 11.3 yards, the highest ever;
  • Kickers connected on an all-time high of 82.7 per cent of their field goals.


But while the CFL is also an innovator in terms of coach’s challenges and instant replay, the advancements and implementation of that technology have also occasionally frustrated fans. As much as everyone wants the call on the field to be correct, the challenges were seen as time consuming and some of the penalties chintzy.

You Make The Call

Johnson noted that penalties were down 13 per cent in 2016, to an average of 17.8 per game, while a review of the work of the officials showed they were correct on 94 per cent of their calls. At the same time, the league was willing to adjust on the fly to the use of coach’s challenges – an adjustment to the rule was made in Week 10 last year when a coach’s first challenge put a timeout at risk – with the result a drop to just over two challenges per game from 2.46 before the tweaking. That number is still up from 1.26 in 2015.

Those adjustments will continue in 2017 in an effort to increase the flow of a game. A coach can no longer challenge a play after a TV commercial (the challenge must come within 30 seconds of the commercial starting) while the video official – the ‘eye in the sky’ – now has more duties to make sure the call on the field is correct.

Other challenge numbers worth noting from Johnson’s session: Coaches challenged penalties 144 times (123 were asking for a penalty while 21 said a penalty was wrong). Of those, 54 (37.5 per cent) were overturned. And close to half of those challenges (68) were for defensive pass interference, with another 27 for illegal contact.

There were 36 other challenges for standard reviewable aspects such as down by contact or an incomplete or complete pass with 19 (53 per cent) overturned.

There had been discussion of reducing the number of challenges this offseason – or scrapping them altogether – but Johnson and the CFL’s movers and shakers kept repeating a simple point:

“I always kept coming back to the reason we brought this in was for big plays that mattered and fix big mistakes,” he said. “When I was on the field and I made a mistake and I knew I was wrong… you hate yourself. And if you could just have the opportunity to fix it – and you only fix one or two on an official each year, that’s kinda how it works out – the officials are happy, too.

“I’m not sure we got it perfect yet, but I don’t think we’re far off. If we can get to a spot where it’s done more expeditiously and there’s a more predictable outcome for everybody, I think we’ll be in a better place. So maybe the pendulum swung a little bit too far and we’re going to bring it back a bit. I’d hate to see it disappear in its entirety.”

Johnson spelled out the priorities for the 2017 season, among them the desire to continue with player health and safety efforts, improve the coach challenge process, further reduce penalties, improve the game flow and fan experience and invest in growing the game.