Odds and Sods

March 18, 2016 - 5:49pm

Odds and Sods: Why TSN Sucks; Riders pondering #1 Pick; LaBatte redoes contract; Riders unveil new seat prices and how to get your name etched on a wall at new Mosaic Field

For the last week I’ve done a stretch of working nights where I am fortunate to have access to the NFL Network. What caught my attention was the attention the NFL Network paid to the NFL Combine, where US college players go through a series of tests to demonstrate their level of ability prior to being drafted next month.

This is more than just running a 40 yard dash, or running around pylons. There are also drills that test reaction times and the ability to think on the run. If you don’t think that thinking is important, then consider how Peyton Manning retired after setting numerous NFL records.

I’ve been watching football for about 40 some odd years and played for five years and while I think I know something about the game, I have to admit there is a lot I don’t know.  There is a part of me that enjoys watching the Riders kick the ass of the God Less Winnipeg Blue Bombers or Deadmonton Schmos, or the Calgary Stumps, but I find myself getting more interested in how teams make the decisions they do when it comes to players.

Which brings me to the CFL Combine held last weekend in Toronto amidst deafening media silence from TSN, who have the exclusive broadcast rights to the CFL. Having the best Canadian college players in one place, demonstrating their skills, and then having experts explain why the players are doing the things they are doing is certainly one way to build interest in the league.

TSN decided to fill their channels with broadcasts of the same English Soccer League game.

Of course this follows their breathtaking waste of time known as NHL Draft Day, which considering TSN is reduced to regional broadcasts is amazing for its ability to kill time while waiting for nothing in particular to happen. Contrast that to the CFL Free Agency period where the hits kept coming over two days.

I suppose one shouldn’t blame TSN since they are based in Toronto and have the inability to recognize anything past southern Ontario, but out here in football country, it is frustrating to see another opportunity to market the CFL lost because of stupidity and cheapness. It is nice to have the CFL regular season games being broadcast; having memories of when the CBC didn’t start televising games until Labour Day, but TSN is blowing so many opportunities to develop its property by not televising stuff like Free Agency or even the CFL Combine. The NFL doesn’t miss an opportunity to market its game, while the CFL seems indifferent.

So while the Roughriders hold the first overall pick, Rider GM and Coach Chris Jones was not tipping his hand as to where the team might be going with its pick. Charles Vaillancourt, OL, Laval, seems to be the consensus pick but Jones mentioned in an interview there are options like potentially trading the pick in exchange for others considering what a deep year it is for Canadian talent on the offensive and defensive lines.

Now no team will give you a roadmap of what to expect when it comes to the draft, but an interesting comment dropped in Regina last week about Brendan LaBatte redoing his contract. This hasn’t been announced yet, but it makes things interesting.

When you look at the Rider offensive linemen, they pretty much had to keep LaBatte and Chris Best. There's work to be done on that front and not having that pick in the 2nd round is going to cost the Riders a good player, likely another top O-lineman.

So while the Riders pick first overall, they are facing a massive hole in the draft as their next pick is #24 and thanks to the Brandon Boudreaux trade with Hamilton (remember him, anyone?), Hamilton gets our 18th overall pick, what would have been the first pick in the 3rd round while we move back from this almost TWO full rounds, back to pick #35 (the last pick in the fourth round).

So when you look at this, thanks to the trading genius of Brendan Taman and the evil Cory Chamblin, we may have to trade our first pick to come up with more picks to cover up the gong show that went on here the last couple of years.

LaBatte redid his contract because apparently through the grapevine it was more badly constructed than John Chick’s contract and those types of numbers do not lend themselves to responsible salary cap management. LaBatte did better than Chick or Weston Dressler because he is a Canadian, but considering Best also redid his contract so it is also more Rider friendly makes one wonder who the Riders are freeing money up for?

There are two answers – Brent Jones and Ben Heenan. Those two will be in NFL camps and not free until Labour Day unless they stick on their respective rosters. The Riders have brought in a raft of American offensive tackles and they have some Canadian offensive linemen for depth like Aaron Picton, but bringing in Jones and/or Heenan would go a long way to building a solid Canadian offensive line and freeing up talent elsewhere.

Ah, but that’s not all that’s new. The Riders unveiled their transition to the new stadium and prices for seats for 2017 when the new stadium opens. People who are used to sitting with friends for many years are looking at an increase in price, depending on where they sit, and some of them are finding where they used to sit are now considered club seats and are somewhat more expensive.

This brings us to the Build the Pride campaign where those getting club seats will have contribute something in the neighbourhood of $750 and in exchange they will get their name etched into a wall at the new stadium, a commemorative plaque and a pre-opening stadium tour. Ordinary fans will have an opportunity to contribute and get their name etched on the wall of the stadium, maybe even the commemorative plaque, later on in the season.

This idea is somewhat in place of the idea of seat licences which the NFL has pioneered where you pay hand over fist for the rights to seats. In this case the club seat owners do get something back for their money, their names on the wall of the stadium, but considering all of us taxpayers are contributing for this stadium, especially property owners in Regina, one would think all of us down here in the City that Rhymes with Fun should get their names etched on the wall.

It was pretty funny on Sunday night I was at the Regina picking up an RCMP cadet arriving to start his classes on Monday when I saw Eric Tillman and Mike Abou-Mechrek get off plane. Abou-Mechrek was returning from a family funeral in Toronto while Tillman believe it or not still lives with his family in Regina, or his family lives here and he commutes.

Tillman has just been named General Manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and presumably still reports to Kent Austin, but this makes the sixth team that Tillman has been GM for, which should be some sort of record. I was thinking of congratulating him, but I was busy telling the new RCMP cadet what to expect in Regina.

The CFL is planning to add a new eye in the sky official to call penalties. An additional Video Official in the Command Centre with a mandate to quickly fix obvious errors that are not challengeable by replay is one of the innovations recommended by the Canadian Football League’s Rules Committee.

The video official would act as a kind of “eye in the sky”, with access to the feed from a special camera that would capture all 24 players on the field.

For example, when both the offence and defence jump into the neutral zone prior to the snap and four officials have flags, all with a slightly different perspective, the video official could look at a play in a few seconds and tell the Referee which team jumped first, speeding up the game and ensuring the right call is made.

The Rules Committee recommended that offensive pass interference, illegal contact and illegal interference on pass plays also be reviewable and expanded to include: no yards, illegal blocks on kick plays, contacting/roughing the kicker or passer, and illegal interference at the point of reception on kick off attempts.

The Rules Committee is recommending changing Illegal Procedure to now allow line players to move slightly, point, or make signals for blocking assignments while in a three-point stance before coming to a set position for one second prior to the snap. This change and others have the potential to eliminate 2 to 3 penalties per game.

Other rules changes to look forward to include:

– The concept of off-setting penalties would be created for some scenarios, such as when the defence is offside and the offence commits holding on the player who is offside, which would result in no yardage difference being applied and the down being replayed.

– No longer allowing a team that gives up a field goal in the last three minutes of a game to choose to scrimmage the ball instead of receiving a kick off.

– A player who gives an opponent’s offensive ball to a fan after a turnover is ruled on the field would no longer be flagged for objectionable conduct, which had been an unintended consequence of allowing offences to use their own footballs

Speaking of player safety, Arland Bruce had his lawsuit against the CFL for responsibility for his concussions because he did not grieve it through the collective bargaining agreement the CFL has with the players association. With the NFL admitting brain damage can result from concussions to the head from playing football, the sport is at a point where something has to be done.

Part of the problem is the NFL plays on a too small a field with players who have grown in size over the decades. I would expect to see the NFL to move towards a Canadian size field, at least as wide as the CFL although I would think the NFL would have a problem adding more yardage to the length of the field. Increasing the size of the field would reduce the possibility for devastating hits that currently take place in the NFL now as well as perhaps teaching players not to use their heads when going for a tackle.

This is not a football exclusive problem. We are seeing it in hockey and even curling to some extent. We need to have this discussion in sports, but when the sports networks like TSN prefer to air fluff, it is up to Canadians to write directly to these networks and demand changes.

After all, isn’t it our league?

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