League's growing pains can include hurtful officiating

ON THE CFL

August 14, 1994|By KEN MURRAY

In a year when three new teams and 14 new officials joined the Canadian Football League, the growing pains are hard to miss. And it's not just in Shreveport, La., where the Pirates staggered out of the gate, and Las Vegas, where the Posse plays to thousands of empty seats.

Through the season's first six weeks, officiating in the CFL has ranged from silly to inconsistent to bizarre.

Silly? That was Baltimore halfback Charles Anthony getting flagged for "objectionable conduct" against Toronto in Week 1. He handed the ball to an Argos receiver after an incomplete pass. A rookie official called it taunting and gave Toronto 10 yards.

Inconsistent? That was Baltimore rush end O. J. Brigance getting thrown down by the shoulder pads from behind with no call against Hamilton -- and tackle Shar Pourdanesh getting a marginal holding penalty at best.

Bizarre? Anthony again. He got thrown out of the Las Vegas game for shoving a player who had just leveled quarterback John Congemi a full two yards out of bounds. Anthony got the same punishment -- disqualification -- as Brad LaCombe, who knocked Congemi woozy with his late hit.

"The biggest thing is consistency," said CFLs quarterback Tracy Ham. "Officials are going to miss calls. [But] I watched O. J. get dragged down the other night and got no call, and Shar hit his guy and it was holding. They've got to be consistent."

Brigance, a four-year vet, said he sees hesitancy in some of the new officials.

"And some of them make calls just to make calls," he said.

l Part of the problem would appear to be the arrival of 14 new officials, 12 from the United States, most of those from Division I-AA. Don Barker, the CFL's director of officiating, said he felt the transition has gone well.

"I suppose there might be an odd incidence where someone breaking into a new game might have the tendency to be that way [hesitant] to some degree," Barker said. "As far as consistency, I've been in the league 35 years, and I've heard that every day I've been here."

The inconsistency cuts both ways, of course. It's not just Baltimore feeling the effect. Baltimore coach Don Matthews acknowledged the subjective nature of officiating when he said, "Officials make calls based on judgment. One of the things I wish we could find out is if the judgment could be consistent. Their interpretation and application of the rules is fine. The consistency of their judgment frustrates me. But every penalty I see is looked at with a biased eye."

Officiating appeared to influence Baltimore's 39-32 loss in Winnipeg in Week 4. The CFLs were flagged for three pass interference calls in six plays at the end of the half, two of them questionable. Those were the only interference calls in the game. In the second half, Winnipeg's Matt Dunigan threw for 312 yards. The Blue Bombers, one of the CFL's most penalized teams, had three penalties that night. Baltimore, one of the league's least penalized teams, had eight.

"You have a handful of games like that every year and don't know why," Congemi said. "Maybe we're having trouble that night and try to throw our hat on the field and win. Maybe the officials are not in position to see something. Good, bad or indifferent, we've got to live with it."

Brigance echoed that sentiment. "I heard a player tell a ref he was being held," he said. "The ref said, 'You couldn't get there anyway.' . . . You can't get upset. They're going to do the best job they can. If you end up crying to them, they ignore you altogether."

That's why Ham didn't whine when he saw no flag after getting clubbed on the back of the helmet by Hamilton's Tim Cofield on Wednesday. "If you get concerned with calls in this league, it will drive you up a wall," he said. Winnipeg coach Cal Murphy and Toronto coach Bob O'Billovich were trading zingers before their Week 5 meeting. The feud started when Murphy asked O'Billovich about changing a date in Winnipeg to accommodate the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge tour. Because it meant a short turnaround for his team, O'Billovich declined.

Sniping ensued when O'Billovich accused the Blue Bombers of hiding players. Murphy countered by saying the Argos paid players "on the side" to circumvent the league salary cap.

Then, in the pre-game news conference, O'Billovich made mention of the heart transplant Murphy had two years ago. "He should get another transplant, this time for his brain," O'Billovich said. "He can kiss my butt."

Said Murphy in his news conference: "I'd kiss his butt, but it looks too much like his face."

F: Murphy had the last laugh in Winnipeg's 54-34 victory.

It was auto-matic

Calgary Stampeders receiver Pee Wee Smith was unbowed after losing a special match race to a 9-year-old thoroughbred horse named Quackson at Alberta Downs. Running out of Gate 8 -- Quackson ran from Gate 3 -- Smith lost the 60-yard sprint by a seeming mile.

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