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Eye in the Sky – The Reilly Factor

Published: Tuesday, Sep 12th 2017, 7:09pm

by: Ferlin Rands (@Fernie635)

During the final game of the tripleheader on Saturday, there was one play that has caused probably more confusion and outrage than any other single play this season. I am referring to the play late in the game between the Eskimos and Stampeders after which Eskimo QB Mike Reilly was pulled out of the game.

Part of the confusion, I think is due to a lot of fans not knowing the roles and responsibilities of everybody in the command centre.

First off, there is the person most people think of when they hear “command centre”. I can’t find the official title, so I’ll refer to him as the video review official, but it is usually Jake Ireland. He is in charge of deciding the outcome of a play that is under review, which is triggered by challenge, turnover, or scoring plays. If a play doesn’t result in any of those three things, he has no power to overrule the on-field officials.

The second is the observer, also known as the eye in the sky. This person, normally Ken Mazurak, is like a combination between an on field official and the video review official. What he can do, is correct calls that are made on the field, that are not-challengeable, such as offside and illegal procedure. He can pick up a flag thrown in error, but he cannot throw flag of his own. So, if an official on the field throws a flag the eye in the sky can look at the play and decide a) if there was indeed a penalty, and b) join the discussion and clear up any confusion there might be amongst the on-field officials. If an on-field official does not throw a flag, he cannot throw one of his own (it would have to be one hell of a throw from CFL HQ anyways).

The third is the injury spotter. This is fairly new, and he isn’t heard from much, mostly because when a player is injured, they show signs right away, the team medical staff goes out, he sits out his minimum three plays, life goes on. Four times since the beginning of 2016 though, this did not happen on plays in which potential concussions may have been suffered. Saturday was the first time that involved a quarterback. So basically, this spotter looks at the play, and advises the player to get checked over by medical staff to confirm whether they sustained an injury. This role was introduced mostly to combat concussions, as those symptoms can take a few minutes to develop, and if a player wished, could quickly deny anything was wrong and keep playing.

On the play, we see a Calgary defender bust through the line, and hit Reilly in the high chest/chin area. A few steps behind and to Reilly’s right, there is an on-field official watching this; he does not throw a flag, which is what started this whole mess. When Reilly got hit, he was pushed up, and then came crashing down to the ground, at which point you can see his head bounce off the turf. This whole string of events happened quickly in real time, but I believe the on-field official made a mistake not throwing the flag. It does appear that Reilly may have turned his shoulders a bit to throw the ball, which may have blocked the official’s view of the contact made by the Calgary defender, but it’s on him to move his feet and get into a position so that he can see what happens.

At this point, the injury spotter, who has reviewed the play, advises the Eskimos to pull Reilly from the game. Whether this was because of the hit from the player, the bounce off the turf, or most likely both, this is all the injury spotter can do, and he did exactly what his job description states. The eye in the sky and video review official were powerless here, because there was no flag thrown by an on field official and there was nothing to initiate a review (again, a challenge, turnover, or scoring play).

While it may have appeared to the viewer that the command centre did nothing, everybody there did as much as they could, as per the current rules. While it sucks for the Eskimos that they lost their starting QB in the red zone, and had to throw in Franklin cold, the injury spotter did what he was hired to do, which is call players off if they are in a situation in which they may have sustained an injury.

One last thing, and I’m not sure if this is a mistake, as I was not able to find a specific rule in it in the 2017 CFL rulebook, but it may have been left up to the on-field official’s interpretation. When Reilly was removed from the game, he was told he had to sit out for three plays. The rule book only states this is the rule if a player stops play, but the official on the field may have decided this counted as an injury timeout and made Reilly sit out for the next three plays. Regardless, Reilly had to go through concussion protocol, which can be done on the sideline using SCAT. Basically, it’s a test consisting of asking the person to rank symptoms ranging from headache, nausea and vision problems on a scale from 0 to 6. People I’ve talked to at the stadium said Reilly was finished his examination before the next snap, which to me seems like it would have to have been rushed through to get done that quickly, but I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know how quickly they can finish their test.

There is a joke going around that in the CFL you shouldn’t get excited for any big play until you make sure there isn’t a flag on the field. In this case, a massive headache could have been avoided had a flag been thrown, whether it was roughing the passer. We as fans have been well aware for years that officiating leaves much to be desired, and we have seen the CFL try countless times to implement new ideas in hopes of making it better. Some have of these ideas have failed, but some will need more time to make a judgement on as of now.

The injury spotter was introduced as a neutral third party to reduce further injuries if a player tried to play through it. There are a number of former players, such as Anthony Calvillo, Matt Dunigan, and Jon Cornish, that likely would have loved for the injury spotter to have existed during their playing careers. In the heat of the moment, players and coaches want the best chance to win, but sometimes that flies in the face of player safety.

Does something need to change? Yes, that much is obvious and has been obvious for as long as I’ve been a football fan. There have been several ideas floated around, some good, some bad. I believe it needs to start with the eye in the sky. When this was first introduced, the league made it sound revolutionary, but so far it has underwhelmed because they simply don’t have enough power to correct some of these blatant missed calls. I say they should be allowed to watch the play in real time, and maybe a second time in real time, and if they see something like a missed roughing the passer, defensive pass interference, offside, illegal procedure, or anything else the on-field officials may have missed, they can make the call down to field level, and the head ref can throw a flag and explain what happened. Instead of looking at the on-field officials and command centre as two different entities, get them to work together more to improve the quality of the game we love.


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