Steve Shaw, coordinator of officials for the SEC, discussed some of the key NCAA and SEC rules changes for the upcoming football season during the 2012 SEC Media Days. The following is a transcript of those comments as provided by the SEC:
Good morning. I'm Steve Shaw. I'm thrilled to be entering my second year as coordinator of officials in the SEC. After 15 years as a referee, it was really enlightening last year to see our officials from a new perspective, from a different perspective. Let me just say I'm honored to be leading the best group of officials in the nation. I hope you'll agree.
We had a solid 2011. But I know that we have upside, that we can improve. I'm going to tell you, we've been working hard in our off‑season to find that improvement, to drive that improvement. I will tell you that that is our goal.
Really the commissioner said it yesterday, Perfection is the ultimate target. That's a very lofty goal. I'll assure you we're going to work hard toward that.
One of the things that help us get there is video. I will tell you that video has really revolutionized the way we train officials and really has become part of all that we do with our officiating staff.
Really what we did last year, the command center upgrades, the enablement of video access to all of our officials is making a difference. I want to thank, again, the ADs, the commissioner, for supporting that in kind of our technology quest, and their continued support in that. That's very important to us as officials and as we work hard to improve.
Not only does this video technology help us in our training techniques, but it's really also allowed us to create an entirely new ranking, grading system for our officials based primarily in video. And we've really revamped that total evaluation system. Bottom line, video is becoming part of every conversation we have with officiating and is very important.
For the 2012 season, our priorities in officiating will remain, and we have seven. Number one is conditioning. We have to be ready to work the games, especially as we work in early September.
Expand our rules knowledge. That's a fundamental.
Work solid and consistent mechanics. We're working very, very hard at that every day.
We started this last year, maintaining and growing our strong on‑field philosophy based on officiating axioms. That's something we strive for and talk about every week.
Strong crew leadership.
Excellent communications. Believe it or not, we're in the communications business, whether it be with coaches, players, with each other, and ultimately me with you, communications is critical to our success.
Finally staying on the forefront of technology. That is something that will continue to drive improvement for our officials. We've mentioned video. Instant replay. We continue to evolve instant replay. This is our eighth year of using instant replay. People think it's part of the game forever, but this is our eighth year. Over a hundred years of college football, in human terms, you're going into the third grade.
We're maturing a little bit with instant replay and we're going to continue to work to expand that to help us make the game better.
Finally around technology, I'll talk about this a little bit after we go through rule changes, but we're going to continue to use technology. We have a new crew communication system we're going to test. I'll talk about that a little bit later, but I'm very excited about that as a technology initiative for our officials as we go into the season.
Finally, before we go through rule changes, I want to let you know that it has been an incredibly busy off‑season. With the expansion of the conference, we added another crew. We had eight crews last year. This year we will have nine crews as we start the season.
As we've expanded our footprint into Texas and Missouri, that has opened up opportunities for some really good officials.
We have added this year nine new officials. That's the most in recent memory since my involvement with the SEC, the most officials we've added to our active roster ever. I'm very excited about that as we open these new areas. We've got some really strong officials, all with post‑season, good post‑season backgrounds.
So we're excited about these new guys coming in. We'll blend them into our crews. We won't create a brand‑new crew, they'll be blended across our crews. That will make us stronger.
In addition to that, we've added six new supplemental officials, a total of 26. Those are the guys that will be coming along that will replace the guys we have today.
The footprint is bigger. Our responsibility is bigger, and we're ready to go. I like where we are as we prepare for the season.
Now, let's talk about rule changes for the 2012 season.
One point of note that I want to make is the NCAA went to a two‑year rule cycle. This is an off‑season for rules. There were no rule changes other than if there were needed changes around player safety, then those are allowed. What you're going to see as we go through this, there were five significant changes made for this season that were all based in player safety.
The commissioner mentioned it yesterday, player safety is so important, and these rule changes are all rooted in player safety.
So the first one, I know it was talked about yesterday with some of the coaches, is the kickoff. We have a number of changes to the kickoff. As we compile statistics, that's a play that has a higher level of potential injury in it than a regular scrimmage down. There's going to be work around making the kickoff safer.
What we're going to do this year, the kickoff line has moved from the 30 yard line up to the 35. The rules maker's intent there, kickers, more touchbacks, less collisions, less injuries. As an added incentive, I don't know if you've read or seen this, if as a receiver you catch the ball and you take a knee, you take a touchback, now we're not taking the ball to the 20, we're going to take it to the 25. Kind of an added incentive in there for you to take a touchback.
A lot of the coaches worked on this in the spring. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out because it's easier to get a touchback now, five more yards to start from. The flipside of that is some special teams coaches with good kickers may try to sky kick, pen 'em back deep. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.
I can tell you, the rules committee isn't sure how it will play out. They're very interested to watch.
One other note on kickoffs that I want to mention, and this will come in on side‑kickoff situations. In the past, the primary kick we've seen is where the kicker drives the ball straight in the ground, it goes high up in the air, the intent is it goes high in the air, 10 yards, a free ball, now we have some pretty significant collisions.
Well, now, if a kicker drives the ball straight into the ground, one hop, the receiving team is afforded protection to catch that hop just like it was an airborne kick. The example would be if he drives it into the ground, big hop, I'm in position to catch it, if it was beyond 10 yards before, the kicking team could make contact with me. Now they will not be allowed to make contact. That will be kick‑catch interference. That will take that one hop kick out of the game as far as on side kicks. That will be a note to watch as we go through.
The second significant change you'll probably notice is a change around helmets coming off. It's almost been at an alarming rate they've been coming off. You've noticed it. We all noticed it. Last year, the NCAA had us and other conferences actually track number of helmets off. It's becoming a significant issue.
Again, around player safety, the rules committee was looking at a way to really incent that player to buckle that thing up, have it fitted properly. The rule will be this year if your helmet comes off, it's not the result of a foul, not a penalty involved in that, then you have to leave the game for one play. There are no exceptions. You can't buy a player back in with a timeout, you have to go out.
Playing time is the most precious commodity to players, so we think that will give them incentive to get these buckled up and fitted properly.
If you're a player and your helmet comes off, you must not continue to participate in the play. So you can finish your continuing action, but if you continue then to participate in the play beyond your continuing action, that's a 15‑yard foul. So the incentive there is for player safety, if your helmet comes off, we're done. We've seen the play, the lineman is rushing, his helmet comes off, the quarterback scrambles out, he goes chasing, now that's a foul. If your helmet comes off, another incentive to fit it properly, you're done for that play.
The third change, and I think around player safety this is a really good change, this is a round kick‑catch interference. We used to have a two‑yard halo around that punt receiver. That was a halo. It was a foul if you got within two yards of him. Created a lot of cheap fouls. The rules committee did away with the halo. As you've seen now, the kicking team players, they're trying to time this thing just right almost in a manner to blow up that receiver.
So the change this year, we're not going back to the halo. I'm calling it a modified halo. Basically that receiver has shoulder width and one yard in front of him, that is a protected space, and no kicking team player can get within that one‑yard space, shoulder width, until I've touched the ball.
The intent from the rules committee, the players will now break down before they go in and make contact. It will be safer for a very defenseless player, which is a punt returner. That will be a pretty significant change and we hope will eliminate some of these big hits right on that punt receiver.
Fourth change is still in the punting game. We've seen a change. What we used to have is the punter would have a personal protector. These guys are in the tackle box, it would be one guy. Now teams have gone to what they call the shield. Everybody has a different name for it. They'll have three guys as a shield protecting the punter. Now it's a foul if you're rushing in to try to block the kick to leap over these guys and block the kick. You can go through them, around them, dive around them, but you cannot jump over them.
The intent of that is we were receiving a lot of players on this shield try to jump over, go into the ground head first. Another player safety issue we will have. It's a pretty significant foul because it's a 15‑yard penalty from the previous spot. It will give the offense 15 yards, automatic first down. So a big incentive not to leap over that internal protector or the shield.
Finally, a number of changes around blocking below the waist for player safety. This is an area that continues to evolve. We made a significant change last year by making, by definition, blocking below the waist, except for, there are a list of exceptions. I won't go through all the details of this one, but a couple of examples to where player safety is involved.
Now an offensive player can't peel back toward his own goal line and block below the waist. That's a foul. A player that's restricted can't come into the tackle box and block below the waist at all.
This one is one very technical in nature, but is again around player safety. That was the intent of all these rule changes.
I think these will be very noticeable as you're covering games this season and we look forward to seeing how they play out.
The other thing I wanted to hit very, very briefly was the actual points of emphasis for the season. These are national points of emphasis. The first is targeting and dangerous contact fouls. Again, not helmet to helmet. You will never hear one of our referees saying helmet to helmet. Helmets hit every play. This is targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders or using the crown of your helmet to make contact. That's a foul. We will continue to focus on that.
The second there is unsportsmanlike conduct. We're not going to let up there. We're going to use good judgment. We're not going to be overall technical. Spontaneous celebrations, especially with teammates are okay. But anything that is directed toward an opponent or demeaning to the game, we're going to stay there.
This was our big discussion last year. Many people said that turned out to be a bust. We had one foul that turned back a touchdown all season. But I think the rule did what it was intended to do. I've never seen a year with as little celebration type things as players went into the end zone. So I think the rule worked.
Finally, coaches' sideline behavior. We have great coaches in this league. We don't think there will be anything here for us. I think nationally we've all agreed that anytime the coaches' behavior on the sideline is demeaning to the game, we have to deal with it, and we will.
So in my closing moments, we are going to use a crew communication system this year, a technology that's basically like an earbud for our officials. They can talk to one another during the game. We really think it's going to help in expediting the game, help us with coaches' communication. We're really excited about testing that. We'll probably be the only conference testing it. We'll have a couple crews using that. We're very excited about that.
In closing, I'm going to tell you, our guys are working hard right now to get ready. We're going to work hard in the fall. We want to be the best team on the field. My ultimate goal is we'll give everything we have on every play, and that's all.
Thank you, appreciate it. Hope you have a great day.
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