It’s the earliest morning of SEC Media Days. It’s also slated to be the longest day in this event’s history, with six teams slated to make the rounds around the Wynfrey Hotel.
So the conference sends an official — no, the head of officials — to take the stage first, absorbing the blunt of the yawns and sips of coffee out of none-too-trustworthy traveler lids.
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Steve Shaw, the SEC coordinator of football officials, spoke on the subjects of kickoffs, punt and kick returns and tackling. But, as is to be expected with the recent developments in the effects of head injuries in football, player safety is paramount.
“The footprint is bigger, our responsibility is bigger,” Shaw said.
Here’s a few changes observers will notice on Saturdays this fall:
— The SEC added nine new officials. Six new supplemental officials. With more conference games than ever, more officials will flood the market of the Southeastern Conference.
— The kickoff yard line has moved from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. This is expected to lead to more touchbacks, which the rules are also adding more incentive to by moving the ball from the 20-yard line to the 25. The hope: Fewer kickoffs, fewer collisions, fewer injuries.
— Onside kicks are changing, as well. No longer will a kicker be able to hit the ball into the ground and high into on one hop. Receivers will now be afforded protection against such plays — contact will be
— If a helmet comes off, a player will need to take one play off. No excuses. A coach can not buy a play for that player by use of a timeout or season tickets. Also, if a player loses his helmet during a play, he can no longer continue to chase down the action or participate in the play.
— Kick-catch interference will be expanded through the expansion of a receiver’s “halo”, which expands a yard-wide width surrounding the punt or kick returner.
— In punt block situations, defensive players will not be able to block a punt by leaping over blockers. This, undoubtedly, will lead to fewer blocked punts (and exciting plays), but player safety will continue to take a front seat in such scenarios. Shaw said the rule-makers observed many defensive players launching themselves over blockers only to be upended and land on their heads — a very dangerous situation. Such a play will warrant a 15-yard penalty from the spot and an automatic first down for the offense.
— Blocking below the waist will also go through a bit of a revolution. Shaw outlined a few, but not all, of the new rules: A player can not trail back towards his own goal line and block below the waist,
— No using the crown of the helmet for tackles. Once again, in an effort aimed toward player safety, safeties and linebackers in particular will be watched carefully for launching into “defenseless” receivers, as defined by the officials on the field.
— Anything directed at (and demeaning to) an opponent will once again be considered unsportsmanlike conduct. There was some buzz around this rule last season when a touchdown was called back against LSU punter Brad Wing — fortunately, the outcome of the game was not affected — but the country’s officials are sticking with it. Interpretation of this rule will continue to be at the officiating crew’s discretion, although Shaw did mention that spontaneous and team-centric celebrations will be considered acceptable (unless, of course, the entire Georgia team storms the field for Knowshon Moreno).
And with that, today’s schedule kicks off with Florida coach Will Muschamp. Here’s the rest of the day’s lineup: