Snakes on a league!

By Dan Falloon, Sports reporter
What do the Canadian Football League and the 2006 movie “Snakes on a Plane” have in common?
No, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t fly under the radar and suit up for the Las Vegas Posse in the mid-’90s.
The answer: both were improved by fan input.
In the case of “Snakes on a Plane,” the big demand from movie-goers was that the line “I’ve had it with these (expletive) snakes on this (expletive) plane!” be used in the movie.
In the end, the studio conceded that the line, which originated as a line in a fan’s spoof before the movie was completed, would be in the final product.
While the movie ended up being a box office disappointment, seeing the line with a legion of dedicated fans heightened my theatre-going experience.
The movie inspired entertainment companies everywhere to hop on the fan input trolley. The CFL was among them.
Before the 2009 season, the league invited fans to submit any ideas for new rules that popped into their heads—and ended up making four changes based on that call for submissions.
One was to change the rule limiting quarterback formation to allow for the “Wildcat” formation, a Miami Dolphins’ staple. The formation didn’t gain a foothold in 2009, but leaving the option open didn’t hurt anything, either.
Other changes were to move the kick-off after a safety touch to the 25-yard line from the 35, taking away the option of scrimmaging at the 35-yard line for a team that’s just allowed a field goal, and giving a team a third challenge if its first two attempts were successful.
Tom Higgins, the CFL’s director of officiating, said the number of safeties decreased by about 14 percent in 2009, suggesting teams were more likely to punt than give up the two points when pinned deep.
And this off-season, the league is looking for input into its overtime format.
“We’re looking for fans’ input when it comes to ensuring our overtime format is fair, exciting, and, ideally, consistently produces a deserving winner,” Higgins said in a press release.
In regular-season play, teams scrimmage at the opponents’ 35 yard line until they score or give up the ball. If the score is tied after the first attempts, they’ll do it again, and if it’s still tied, well, it’s like kissing your sister.
There was one tie in 2009, and there only have been six since the start of the 2000 season, so fans leaving a CFL stadium with an unfamiliar neutral feeling hasn’t been common in the recent past.
But “draw-o-phobia” has been sweeping North America since 2002, when baseball’s all-star game ended in a tie. After the NHL introduced the shootout in 2006, the death knell for the tie started to sound.
And perhaps, with this in mind, maybe the CFL is looking at going to straight wins and losses, especially after looking into Higgins’ use of “deserving winner.”
Fans commenting on the CFL’s website generally are supportive of the current straight scrimmage format, although some are in favour of moving the ball back as far as centrefield, arguing that a team shouldn’t be placed into field goal range at the start of overtime.
Fair enough, but if a late-season outdoor game that started at 7:30 p.m. in, say, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, or Edmonton went to overtime around 10:15 or 10:30 p.m., they might change their tune.
If it’s minus-25 C and a north wind is gusting, I’m not particularly keen on dragging a game out.
A handful of commentators want to see teams kick off in overtime (could work) while just a couple have expressed interest in an NFL-style sudden-death format (no way).
But what’s most interesting is the way in which fan participation has been sought this year as compared to last. Last year’s suggestions were all across the board, and that was (dreams of a Wildcat offence aside) a success.
This year’s question about overtime seems to be a response to a non-existent crisis.
After a classic Grey Cup in 2005, when Edmonton edged Montreal 38-35 in double overtime, I certainly didn’t hear anyone clamouring to make a change.
But there is an issue that could boil over where fans aren’t being consulted. The CFL is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, and there is talk that the import ratio rule may be changing—possibly meaning fewer guaranteed starting spots for Canadians.
When CFL commissioner Mark Cohon wouldn’t discuss the issue during Grey Cup week at the end of November, the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox theorized that Cohon might try to change the designated import rule.
Currently, teams can name three designated imports who can be inserted only for import starters, which would leave five starting spots for Canadians.
Cox noted that since quality Canadian players are rarer than imports, they can command a higher price, so there are financial considerations.
In the fallout of the controversy, some fans responding to the overtime question have added postscripts decrying any reduction of Canadians, so Cohon has been getting an earful whether he wants it or not—or whether he even deserves it or not since it’s all just talk at this point.
While the CFL got things right by going “Snakes on a Plane” consulting fans to improve the league, if it does, indeed, make any changes that decrease Canadian involvement, all the improvements under Cohon’s regime may be forgotten in an instant.
If the league does go ahead with any changes to the Canadian ratio without asking the fans, he may as well have screamed, “I’ve had it with these (expletive) fans in these (expletive) seats!”

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