September 22, 2017

Reducing risk of injury behind rule changes

Eskimos centre Justin Sorensen was asked for his thoughts about having an extra bye week next season after some new rules were recently announced by the CFL.

“Well, three bye weeks means one more week without a paycheque, too. Right?” he said with a chuckle.

But Sorensen also agreed that another week off during the season was “a good way to get recovery and for teams to game plan.”

“I’m guessing it’ll make the scheduling a little easier,” he continued. “It should eliminate a lot more of those short weeks and give the league a better chance to make a good schedule.”

According to the news release, preliminary modelling suggests the number of short weeks, where teams will play on less than six days of rest, could be reduced by as much as two-thirds.

The CFL’s announcement, which was supported by the Canadian Football League Players Association, also said full-contact padded practices during the regular season were being eliminated immediately. Previously, teams were allowed 17 practices with pads over the course of the season.

Combined with the expansion of the schedule from 20 to 21 weeks, the CFL hopes that “more rest” and “less physical wear and tear” will reduce the risk of injury for the players. The season will remain at 18 games.

“Player safety is at the forefront of what we’re trying to do,” said Brock Sunderland, Eskimos general manager and vice-president of football operations. “The commissioner (Randy Ambrosie) made a loud statement about how we’re trying to protect all of the guys out there on the field.”

The Eskimos have been overwhelmed with injuries this season, with 43 of their 78 players who have played at least one game spending time on the injured list. More than 20 players have been recuperating on the six-game injured list on several occasions.

The league previously eliminated full-contact tackling in practice as a safety measure.

“Obviously, it’s going to take away a majority of the hitting,” Sorensen said about practices without pads. “With just helmets, you can’t go live, full contact. It’ll take a lot of wear and tear off the body, but it may decrease your preparation a little bit.

“I don’t think there’s any research behind it, but absolutely, if you’re taking less wear and tear on your body all the time, you think your body would last a little bit longer.”

Teams will still be able to use full pads during training camp practices.

“That’s when guys earn jobs or lose jobs,” Sorensen said. “Guys are just going to have to show up in training camp and show their skills because it definitely will change things.”