The Rules, They are A-changin

By JOEL COLEMAN

sports@starkvilledailynews.com

If you missed it last week at Media Days, SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw addressed the rule changes you can expect to see on the gridiron in 2015. Check out my story below to get a better feel of some of the major changes, as well as read some of Shaw’s analysis of the adjustments.

Shaw addresses rule changes

By JOEL COLEMAN
sports@starkvilledailynews.com
When the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days began last week in Hoover, Alabama, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey kicked things off with a reference to the old Bob Dylan song, “The Times, They are A-changin’.”
Just 24 hours later, coordinator of officials for the SEC, Steve Shaw, reinforced that theme as he discussed several new rules that will impact the league this fall.
“We have to get better,” Shaw said. “The teams get bigger, faster, stronger. The game gets quicker and tougher to officiate. So we have to get better every year just to keep on pace. That’s what we’re working on, and change is a part of that.”
Perhaps the most important alteration that will be made this season won’t be on the field, but in the replay booth. The conference will appoint an independent athletic trainer who will watch all games from above as a medical observer and primarily look for signs of head and neck trauma.
Shaw categorized this individual as a “fourth backup” to ensure player safety, adding another line of defense should players, team personnel or officials on the field miss signs of an injury. The medical observer will be present for all conference games and non-conference games played in SEC stadiums. Non-conference opponents will be able to opt-out of participating.
The process will work similarly to a booth-initiated replay review, in that if the medical observer notices a play about to start while a player exhibiting symptoms of injury is still on the field, the officials can be notified and the play stopped. The player in question would then be removed from the field for at least one play as he is examined by the team medical staff.
It’s a system that was tested in several games last season. Shaw noted that in those contests, the process was never needed, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“I can’t really tell you the frequency of (using) this,” said Shaw. “I think it will be minimal, but we have to work through it. If we have one stop and we save a potential concussion issue with a player, it’s all worth it.”
There will also be numerous changes on the field of play, starting with the officiating crew. Eight officials will now comprise each unit, giving the SEC what Shaw said would be “better preventative officiating” and simply a “better look” at the happenings on the field.
“The net of all this is we’ll be better officials,” Shaw said.
Those referees will have a few more things to look for in 2015 once they don the stripes. For the first time, illegal blocking by the kicking team on an onside kick is now reviewable. Previously, this was an unreviewable judgment call.
“(Onside kicks) are such impactful plays in the game,” Shaw said. “It’s usually a turnover or change in possession. So the rules committee felt it was such an impactful play that we’ll kind of cross over on this one specific circumstance where we’re going to evaluate judgment calls, kind of like we do now with targeting.”
Other notable changes this season include an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when players push or pull opponents off of piles, a ban on overbuilt facemasks and additional illegal equipment adjustments.
To ensure all officials are familiar with both the new and old rules, all league referees were scheduled to be in Birmingham this week to be tested on their knowledge, as well as their conditioning. After that, it won’t be long until the zebras are calling the action.
“The teams will be ready on week one, and we’re going to be ready on week one as well,” Shaw said.

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