Monday, 17 June 2019

CFL needs to walk the talk in removing cheap shots

Lawrence suspension a small step forward, more work needed

Zach Collaros throws a pass at Roughriders training camp in June.
    The message isn’t getting through regarding cheap shots in the CFL.
    In the league’s regular season opener last Thursday between the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders and host Hamilton Tiger-Cats, two obvious dirty hits went down in the first six plays of the game. For a league and a CFL Players’ Association that talked lots in the off-season about player safety, the start of the regular season opener showed there wasn’t any more respect for player safety on the field than there was last year.
    On just the fourth play of Thursday’s contest, Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros ran for a seven-yard gain and gave himself up on a feet first slide.
    Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence dove and drove his left shoulder into Collaros’s head. Collaros left the game and didn’t return after he failed to pass the CFL’s concussion protocol.
    Lawrence received a Grade 2 roughing the passer penalty resulting in a 25-yard gain for Saskatchewan.  
    Two plays later, Roughriders backup quarterback Cody Fajardo overthrew a sideline pass to running back William Powell.
    After the ball had long sailed over Powell’s head, he was decked by Tiger-Cats defensive back Delvin Breaux. Breaux received a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
    The hits thrown by Lawrence and Breaux didn’t need to be delivered. They were both plays that were brainless and needless.
    The Roughriders would score a touchdown on that opening series and ultimately lost the contest 23-17.
    In the aftermath, the Roughriders moved Collaros to the six-game injured list on Sunday. While the Roughriders didn’t confirm what Collaros’s injury was, he does have a history of concussion injuries, and it is pretty easy to draw an educated guess on what his exact injury is.
    On Monday, the CFL suspended Lawrence two games for his hit on Collaros. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie stressed the importance of player safety in Monday’s press release sent out by the league regarding Lawrence’s suspension.
    Lawrence can appeal the CFL’s ruling under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players. The 30-year-old hasn’t been previously suspended or fined for dangerous play since joining the league in 2012.
    First, I will admit the suspension is a good start, if it holds up. As a general observation on how these situations were dealt with in past seasons, it always felt like discipline handed out by the CFL was toothless.
Brandon Bridge was a head shot victim last season.
    There would usually be a one-game suspension, which would disappear after an appeal was made. It always seemed more weight was thrown behind ensuring an offending player didn’t miss a game paycheque.
    It seems like the only way to get discipline is to handle things an old school way, where your offensive line basically act as enforcers.
    In the old days of football, it was common for an offensive team to run a running play at a defensive player that threw a cheap shot. The focus of the play wasn’t to gain yards but to go after and hurt the defensive player that threw the cheap shot.
    In the modern era, I’m not sure how that type of tactic would be received, if it was utilized.
    The officials in Thursday’s game between the Roughriders and Tiger-Cats called those penalties as they should. They could have elected to eject Lawrence from the game, and that is the only other thing they could have done.
    Still, the CFL as a league and the players have to make it a priority amongst themselves to get the cheap shots out of the game.
    One way the CFL could do more is adopting a targeting penalty that is used in the United States by the football teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
    The penalty in the NCAA is 15-yards with an automatic ejection from the game. If the penalty occurs in the second half of a contest, the offending player is automatically suspended for the first half of the next game.
    With the CFL field being larger, the yardage for the penalty could be 25-yards with those ejection stipulations.
    Amateur football in Canada has a targeting rule that contains a 25-yard penalty, but there are no automatic ejections. In U Sports, the infraction is automatically reviewed for further discipline, and if the targeting infraction is upheld, the offending player is suspended for his squad’s upcoming game.
    A number of pundits were calling for Lawrence to be suspended for three to five games. The CFL and its players have to look at these longer suspensions too.
    There are likely some Roughriders fans looking for the old school enforcer response. Going back to last season, Saskatchewan has gone three straight games losing its starting quarterback in a game due to a head shot.
    In a 23-18 West semifinal playoff loss on Nov. 11, 2018 to the Bombers, Roughriders starting quarterback Brandon Bridge was hit helmet to helmet on the game’s second last play by Bombers defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat. Bridge was knocked out of that contest.
    During the Roughriders final regular season game in 2018 on Oct. 27, Collaros was lost as starting quarterback due to a helmet-to-helmet shot from British Columbia Lions defensive lineman Odell Willis in a 35-16 Saskatchewan victory.
    The needless cheap shots need to go in the CFL. Unless is a steady enforcement of ejections and suspensions for those fouls, they will always remain a major problem in the game.

Is CFL football overpriced?

Fans at the 2013 West final in Calgary.
    Is there a lack of interest or a pricing problem, when it comes to CFL football?
    Since at least the start of the 2016 season, it seems a lot of fans show up at CFL game dressed as empty seats. It seems like there are a lot of no shows in the stadium even when a strong attendance figure is announced.
    Announced attendance figures from Week 1 weren’t anything to write home about. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced 22,287 spectators attended their 23-17 victory over the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders at the 23,218 seat Tim Hortons Field.
    On Friday, the Edmonton Eskimos attracted 25,263 announced spectators to their 32-25 victory over the visiting Montreal Alouettes at the 55,819 seat Commonwealth Stadium.
    On Saturday, the Calgary Stampeders drew 26,301 announced spectators to their 32-28 setback to the visiting Ottawa Redblacks at the 35,400 seat McMahon Stadium.
    Also on Saturday, The British Columbia Lions drew an announced crowd of 18,058 spectators to their 33-23 setback to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the 54,500 seat B.C. Place stadium in Vancouver.
    None of those figures are even close to what those clubs could draw in their heydays.
    Way back in 1972, the Tiger-Cats drew an average of 32,129 spectators to each of their regular season home games, and that mark still stands as a team record.
    The Eskimos set their team record for average regular season attendance in 1982, when they attracted 57,899 spectators for each of their regular season games.
    The Stampeders team record for average regular season attendance isn’t that old. Back in 2009, the Stampeders drew an average of 36,502 spectators in each of their regular season home games.
    The Lions record for average regular season attendance came back in 1986, when they attracted 46,526 spectators per game.
    While numerous factors have to be considered for why fans stay away, one wonders how big of a factor ticket prices play.
    If you are looking to purchase single game tickets in the lower part of each team’s stadium between the 20 yard lines, be prepared to shell out. Those are the sections you can see the most on television and often they seem empty.
    Thanks to Ticketmaster information, here is what you can expect to play for single game tickets in the following eight CFL markets, if you sit in the lower sections between the 20 yard lines. All of these prices come before fees and taxes.

  • Calgary - $99 to $120.25.
  • Edmonton - $66.75 to $99.75.
  • Hamilton - $95 to $110.25.
  • Ottawa - $55 to $131.
  • Saskatchewan - $106 to $127.
  • Toronto - $57.25 to $76.25.
  • Vancouver - $90 to $94.
  • Winnipeg - $99 to $155.
    I couldn’t find single game ticket sales online for the Montreal Alouettes. Using calculations from their regular season pricing plans on their website, it will cost you $54.37 to $88.91 to sit between the 20 yard lines in the lower sections at Alouettes home games before fees and taxes.
    For the casual fans that attend games, it is safe to say these prices are too high to make an impulse decision to go to a game. You could sit in the end zones or the upper decks where the cheaper tickets are, but casual fans are more tempted to pass on that.
    If it becomes popular to head to a game to be seen, then casual fans will pay higher ticket prices.
    In cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, CFL clubs have to compete against other options for the sports entertainment dollar like Major League Soccer. Also, weather conditions will influence a ticket buyer, and those prices will drive people away from bad weather games.
    Even for ultra passionate fans, one wonders how close the CFL is to pricing itself out of the market.

Clouston joins Blazers as head coach

Shaun Clouston, centre, is the new Kamloops Blazers head coach.
    It didn’t take long for Shaun Clouston to resurface in the WHL.
    On Monday, the Kamloops Blazers announced Clouston would be the team’s new head coach and Darryl Sydor, who was a Blazers assistant coach last season, has moved up to the role of associate coach. Sydor is one of the Blazers part owners.
    Clouston was the head coach and general manager of the Medicine Hat Tigers, but he and the Tigers parted ways on May 30.
    One day later, the Tigers announced Willie Desjardins had returned to the team to retake his former roles of head coach and general manager, which he left being in 2010 moving up to the professional ranks.
    Clouston has been with the Tigers for 16 seasons. He joined the club as an assistant coach before the start of their WHL title winning campaign in 2003-04.
    The Viking, Alta., product was promoted to associate coach before the start of the 2005-06 campaign and helped the Tigers win another WHL in 2006-07.
    He became the club’s head coach in 2010 and took on the role of general manager in August of 2012.
    Clouston became the all-time leader in regular season head coaching wins with the Tigers. The 51-year-old put together a stellar 375-241-46 regular season coaching record with the team.
    The Tigers reached the WHL Eastern Conference championship series in 2011 and 2014 with Clouston as head coach.
    Adding in his time as head coach of the Tri-City Americans from the 2002-03 season, Clouston has 391 career regular season victories as a head coach.
    The Tigers put up a solid 35-27-4-2 record last season under Clouston despite suffering some key injuries down the stretch. They fell 4-2 in a best-of-seven first round playoff series to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
    The Blazers parted ways with former head coach Serge Lajoie in April after one season. Under Lajoie, the Blazers posted a 28-32-6-2 record in the regular season and won a standings tiebreaking game 5-1 over the Kelowna Rockets to make the playoffs.
    Kamloops fell in a best-of-seven first round playoff series 4-2 to the Victoria Royals.
    Sydor played defence for the Blazers when they won the WHL and Memorial Cup titles in the 1991-92 campaign. He also played his first games in the NHL ranks that season with the Los Angeles Kings.
    Sydor is best remember for his time in the NHL playing 1,291 career regular season games from 1991 to 2010 recording 98 goals and 409 assists with the Kings, Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.
    He won the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 and the Lightning in 2004.
    Under Clouston, you can be sure the Blazers players will be hearing a lot about playing as a unit of five in all three zones on the ice. In a team press release, Clouston said his family is planning to make Kamloops their new home.

Raptors celebration looked crazy

    The NBA champion Toronto Raptors held their victory parade in the Ontario provincial capital on Monday, and the images show on television and social media looked pretty crazy.
    It is estimated over two-million people turned out to see the parade in downtown Toronto. The Raptors clinched their first NBA crown downing the two time defending champion Golden State Warriors 114-110 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last Thursday in Oakland, Calif.
    The images of the celebration showed Toronto engulfed by a mass of humanity. The pictures and video showed people from all sorts of cultures getting along together and being happy.
    Unfortunately, the celebrations were marred by a shooting that left four people wounded and three people were taken into custody.
    Hopefully, the good the Raptors did in bringing people together with their run will outlast an idiotic incident.

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