Well, it’s certainly been an event filled day here in Regina, and just to let you know…this is a blog post at about 5:00 a.m. (yes, I need to wake up in three hours for a full days worth of meetings), which means that I get to speak in my own voice without being overly concerned about what my professional writing voice might sound like. Deal with it. It’s late.
Today was certainly filled with mixed emotions. As the new guy to the OFC, I had the opportunity tonight to meet with a lot of really interesting and amazing people from all over Canada, but also, I had the opportunity to get to know my colleagues from the OFC (Ontario Football Conference) a little better. Needless to say, we shared some good laughs tonight, as I enjoyed hearing their war stories of what it’s been like to run a non-profit football organization in Ontario over the past few years. Trust me when I tell you that it’s not been easy. In fact, tonight was a real eye-opener as to the challenges and struggles that each team faces year-to-year.
My impressions of Regina? Other than the fact that the name itself makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable…is that it truly is a great place to visit if you’re a football fan. Go Riders! Go Thunder!
Yes, that’s snow.
The city itself is a bit out of place though. As we approached by plane, I noticed that the Province was predominantly made up of empty farm land and frozen ponds, and the city consisted of residential housing and trees – almost as if the city itself were somehow transplanted unnaturally into the middle of nowhere.
Controversy of the Day:
Yesterday, the COMFL Burlington Braves (Pee Wee) took to social media in what I felt was an aggressive and attention-seeking campaign to attract as much media attention as possible. Well, they got it. In fact, it reminded me of the old saying in customer service: “Pay those who scream the loudest.” Well, I heard their complaints loud and clear, and even though I am not personally affiliated with COMFL in any way and have no power to resolve their complaint on my own, I did speak with a few of the other OFC executive members in the hopes of offering a little unbiased clarity and varied opinions into this extremely unfortunate situation.
The issue that Burlington has is that one of their players, 12-year old Zack Ihasz, was ejected from a game last week for delivering what the field referee deemed to be a “rough play” due to the perceived helmet-on-helmet contact. As is the standard at all levels of Ontario football, the ejection automatically meant that the player would then have to miss the very next game – in this case, the playoffs. For obvious reasons, this hasn’t been sitting well with the Stampeders organization or with their supporters.
Here’s the video of the hit in case you’re wondering:
At about the 12-second mark, you’ll notice Zack cutting back and hitting another player in what many feel is a legitimate and clean football hit. But does it fall within the new, unanimously agreed upon safety rules when it comes to the concerns over helmet contact and concussion prevention? According to Referee-in-Chief Bill Butcher, it does not.
“So much bother over a single play,” said Butcher. “Coaches, parents, and players need to remember that we [the referees] are on the field to protect the players from injuries, if possible. A player who has been ejected from a game may not return to the playing field for the rest of that game, and may not dress or play in the player’s next league or play-off game, excluding forfeitures or re-scheduled games (including carry-over to the following year). This also must be marked on the game sheet by the officials.
“This is the section of the COMFL by-laws that refer to the ejection of a player. The Burlington Stampeders have been members of this league for about 20 years, and this section has been there for as long as I can remember. The Stampeders attended the meeting where they approved these by-laws for most of the years, including this year, so they know the rule. If they felt the need for an appeal process, then why didn’t they raise this issue in the spring when the by-laws were reviewed? Waiting until something happens to one of their players before bothering to address the issue is too late. We shouldn’t be changing rules in mid-season or playoffs simply because of one incident. During the season, several players were ejected and served their suspensions, so the league has already established a pattern, and now is not the time to be changing the rules. In addition, I don’t need to see my name in emails accusing me of not knowing the rules or of not knowing how to handle these types of situations. I am simply asked to clarify the rules, make sure the officials are at the games, and to assign the playoff officials. And for the record, my net money received in the last 15 years of service has been zero.”
Here are the sections from the rule book for your reference:
Rule 7 – Section 2 – Rough Play – Article 3 – Butt blocking, butt tackling or spearing – Butt blocking, butt tackling or spearing, if done deliberately in such a way as to cause calculated injury may be penalized under this section.
Section 3 – Unnecessary Roughness – Article 7 – Spearing – Spearing is the deliberate and malicious driving of the helmet into a player who is down, or is held so that he is going down, or whose forward progress has been stopped, or who is in a position unable to protect himself. A player shall be called for spearing even if he commits himself before the ball is dead, if he uses the head and helmet as the primary or main point of force.
Article 8 – Butt blocking or Butt tackling a) Butt block – No player, including the ball carrier, shall deliberately use his helmet to butt or ram an opponent b) Butt tackle – No player shall intentionally strike the runner with the crown or top of his helmet , or with the face mask.
Again, after watching the video, some believe that the call was in fact, border-line at best. Both Bill Butcher and OFC President Darren Cocchetto disagree with this assessment:
“The COMFL must put an appeal process into their by-laws,” said Butcher. “It has nothing to do with the officials or myself. Also, the OFC does not allow for an appeal on a first time violator who is ejected from a game. I find it interesting that so many people think that lowering the helmet, so the crown of the helmet makes contact with an opponent, is a ‘border-line’ call. What would you have? An ambulance, and then it’s a good call? The play was moving very fast and the officials unfortunately don’t have the luxury of watching a replay frame-by-frame in order to make the call. Realistically, if you need to review any play frame-by-frame anyway, then it’s a foul. Period. If these types of hits are not penalized by the on-field officials, we’ll end up spending the next 20 years in courtrooms trying to explain why we allowed ‘border-line’ hits to go without any penalty. Careful what you wish for, because the resulting chaos could be unstoppable.”
“This is ridiculous,” said OFC President Darren Cocchetto before watching the actual video. “I read the article. Clearly the referee saw the hit as illegal and serious enough to warrant an ejection. I doubt the film quality was very good, so those officials quoted in the article wouldn’t have likely had the best of views. The fact that the game official is now saying the kid should play is no doubt simply because of the uproar. I think the bigger issue here is the coach’s self-admission that he wasn’t aware of the rules regarding ejections and suspensions. Maybe the coach should worry less about what others are doing and spend more time learning the rules.”
Then, after finally watching the video, Cocchetto had the following to say: “Thanks for sending me the link. As a former defensive player, I love what the player was hopefully trying to do…peeling back and throwing a block. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it looks like he was leading with his head, and unfortunately struck the opposing player at or near the head area, and as we all know, that is now very much frowned upon. The film shows that there was an official right there with a clear view of the hit. If he felt the hit warranted an ejection, I don’t see how it can be questioned. The parents and coaches clearly have a biased opinion. The officials and Bill Butcher do not.”
And just for some varied perspective, I also thought to ask Predators player and OFC Media Analyst, Jake Bellamy, on his thoughts regarding the situation: “I feel that the player in question was unaware that his actions were illegal. At what age does a player know that they’re making a mistake, instead of laying their body out there? I have many times laid my body on the line to make a big block, but I know better than to lead with my head. When I was his age, was I aware of the risks? No, not likely. It becomes a coach’s job to teach the players.”
So in summary, the decision to suspend the player will NOT be overturned. Nor should it be. It’s obviously a very unfortunate situation and I certainly feel for the player, but at the same time, had Zack hit the player hard enough to result in a major concussion or injury, we’d be having a completely different conversation right now.
Personally, I’m just glad that both players are okay, and despite this disappointing outcome, I would like to wish the Stampeders and the Toronto Grizzlies all the best in this weekend’s playoff game.
Play mean, but clean.