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CFL to end padded practices, give players more rest time

The CFL has banned full-contact padded practices during the season.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

CFL players can look forward to the elimination of padded practices during the regular season and the addition of more time for rest and recovery.

The CFL and CFL Players' Association (CFLPA) announced Wednesday that effective immediately, full-contact padded practices will be discontinued during the regular season. And next year, teams will get an extra bye week to help reduce the risk of player injury. The timing of the announcement was surprising given the CFL is in the second half of the season. But new commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the two developments simply went hand in hand.

"The two pieces just fit together," Ambrosie said. "It was clear we had an opportunity to get this out and do something pro-active for player safety.

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"The timing couldn't have been better."

Previously, CFL teams could hold a total of 17 padded practices following training camp.

In the NFL, clubs can have 11 padded practices over the first 11 weeks of the season, a maximum of one a week. After that, teams can have three more for a total of 14 on the year.

The 2018 CFL regular season will be extended one week to 21. As a result, each team will have three bye weeks instead of two.

Wednesday's announcement is good news for CFL players, but not so much for coaches – especially when it comes to evaluating new players in practice.

"There's no doubt our coaches are going to feel an effect of this," Ambrosie said. "The good thing is practising without pads is nothing new to our coaches … most of the teams as you get closer to the end of the season throttle back on the number of shoulder-padded practices anyway.

"But I also think it creates an opportunity for our coaches to find new techniques and innovations that will allow them to help train and develop our guys while reducing the amount of contact they have in practice. I'm confident they're up to that."

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Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA's executive director, said the new initiative enhances player safety.

"Any time you can immediately and positively affect player safety and their welfare, I think you're going to find we're fully supportive of that," he said.

"To be able to do this and build on the relationship between [the CFL and CFLPA] and be able to make a monumental decision within a season, speaks to the growth in the relationship."

Ambrosie said the move should enhance the likelihood of the CFL's top stars staying on the field.

"What the league and players together have done is a smart investment in making sure our best players stay on the field and are healthy," he said. "I think that's what our fans want … and anything we can do to keep our guys healthy, strong and safe just means we should end up with a much better product on the field."

Ambrosie played eight CFL seasons as an offensive lineman with Calgary, Toronto and Edmonton (1985-93). He estimates such a move during his tenure on the field might have extended his career.

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"I have thought about that," he said.

"I guess you'll never know but I would have appreciated less contact and I'm sure it would have helped.

"Maybe it would have added a year or two to my career back then but what's more important is we've got world-class athletes today and anything we can do to keep them on the field longer and help them be ready to play the next week is what we're focused on."

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