Extra points pushed back 20 yards under new CFL rule changes

Overall shot of Commonwealth Stadium before the CFL Western Semi-Final game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium on November 16, 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Brent Just, Getty Images

TORONTO – Scott Milanovich and other CFL coaches will have much more to consider this season.

The league’s board of governors approved several significant rule changes Wednesday, including pushing converts back 20 yards while moving up two-point attempts two yards. But one modification that could dramatically impact games is defensive backs being unable to contact receivers more than five yards downfield, giving pass-catchers a less obstructed path to the football.

“How that’s going to be called is going to be very important,” said Milanovich, the Toronto Argonauts head coach. “It’s going to make it difficult for teams to play essentially off-man coverage.

“That one’s going to be interesting. I know receivers are pleased and defensive backs are upset but everybody will adjust.”

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Wally Buono, the B.C. Lions GM and vice-president of football operations, said the new contact rule creates a more level playing field between CFL offences and defences.

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“Our game has evolved to a point now where defences have a lot more advantages in disrupting the quarterback and receiver,” he said. “The NFL did away with it and it’s opened up scoring and we believe by doing the same it’s going to hopefully open up scoring and make the game more exciting.

“Good defence is exciting but people want to see touchdowns.”

Buono said the new rule will result in CFL teams looking for more athletic defenders.

“Now you’re going to have to get guys that I believe are going to be able break on the ball or catch up to it,” he said. “Those guys are out there it’s just a matter now of going out and getting them.”

Starting this season, extra points will kicked from the 32-yard line instead of the 12-yard line to try and make converts less of a foregone conclusion. Last year, 99.4 per cent of convert kicks were successful.

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The league is also making the prospect of a two-point convert more intriguing to coaches. Now the ball will be scrimmaged from the three-yard line instead of the five-yard line.

“From the five, you can run four, four and a half yards and still be short,” Buono said. “On the three, if you spread out and run the football the likelihood of success is greater.

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“On a windy day you might not want to try from 32 yards out. It does make the game a little bit more thoughtful and for the fan more exciting.”

Added Milanovich: “There’s going to be some strategy involved especially when the weather is bad. I think you’ll definitely see more two-point conversions than you’ve seen in the past. I just haven’t wrapped my head around how we’re going to handle that one yet.”

But the board of governors rejected the idea of testing a three-point convert during the exhibition season if a team successfully ran or passed the football into the endzone from the 10-yard line.

“I kind of liked the thought of it,” Buono said. “It was the idea you could, even if you were down by nine, which is really two scores, you could still tie the game, which hopefully puts you into overtime and creates more excitement.”

The changes were initially proposed last month by the league’s rules committee.

Other approved modifications include:

  • When a punted ball hits the ground and a five-yard no-yards call is made, the penalty will automatically be added to the end of the return or the point where the ball was first touched by the return team, whichever results in better field position.
  • Offences will now be allowed to signal to the referee they don’t want to substitute and rather use a tempo offence, resulting in the officials blowing the play in immediately once the ball and yardsticks are set.
  • A coach’s ability to request a measurement has been removed, leaving it to the referee to measure when he is unsure if a first down has been made.
  • On punts, the five interior linemen on the kicking team won’t be able to leave the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. A 10-yard penalty will result for violating this rule.

Coaches can continue to challenge defensive pass interference but the board turned down a proposal that offensive pass interference also be subject to video review.

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Buono said the CFL’s changes are in keeping with a trend in pro sports aimed at enhancing entertainment.

“If you look at the major sports around the world, everything is being done to enhance entertainment and add more excitement and value,” Buono said. “Whether it’s the NHL with shootouts and no clutching and grabbing, the NFL’s no-contact rules and protecting the quarterback or major league baseball going with the designated hitter.

“For us, I think there’s a point now where we have to look at how can we grow our excitement . . . Fans come to games to watch big plays.”

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