HOOVER – Instant replay review will become a team effort in the Southeastern Conference this season.
The SEC will use an experimental rule that will have collaboration between the referee, the on-site replay official and three observers monitoring games from the SEC office.
Each of the three officials in the league office will be assigned a game to monitor. However, when there are stoppages for review, all three can be enlisted in making the decision to overturn or confirm a call.
The replay official in the stadium will still be the primary person to make the final determination of any overturn or not,” SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said. “They will also be primarily to stop the game. But with that collaborative communications, now, when we go into a stop, we’ll be able to talk together and ultimately what we believe is come up with the right answer through that collaborative process.”
The replay officials will have access to more camera angles in most situations than in the past, including end zone views.
There are greater powers provided replay officials this season, both with player safety in mind.
First, in a what was experimental last year but now becomes a rule, there is a medical observer who may stop the game for an injured player. Many times, an injury can be undetected by officials on the field or by the training staff, but video might reveal the injury.
Second, replay officials have more leeway in calling an “egregious targeting foul,” as Shaw put it, that is missed by on-field officials. There were only two instances last year when that might have happened; Shaw showed video of both, and one still looked borderline.
Shaw doesn’t believe these changes will extend game times considerably, that there was an average of two stoppages per game, at 1:21 each. The key thing, he stressed, is player safety and not the time of a game.
“This is not about time, it is not about speed, it’s about getting it right,” he said.
When the SEC introduced an eighth on-field official last year, there was fear that might extend game time, as if the extra man would have to justify himself by calling penalties. However, the number of penalties per game in 2015 was 13, up from 12.96 per game in 2014.
Other rule changes and points of emphasis for this season:
— A ball carrier who is sliding feet-first is now considered a defenseless player, so he’s subject to protection under the targeting rule.
— Coaches may ask for a full timeout – giving the same two-hand stretch signal given in basketball – in each half.
— Any coach with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties is disqualified.
— There is a modification to the blocking-below-the-waist rule that further assures player protection.
— Tripping a runner is now illegal; previously, tripping any opponent except the ballcarrier was illegal.
The points of emphasis are on targeting and dangerous fouls, coaches’ sideline management, managing the pace of play and substitutions and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
“The expectation that everybody has on our officials is perfection,” Shaw said. “Absolute perfection. And I’m going to tell you, that’s a lofty goal. That’s a tough goal. And really my expectation for our officials is that each official is performing at their upper limit. They’re meeting or exceeding the standard, the high standard that we set in the SEC for officiating.”
This is Shaw’s sixth season as coordinator of officials, and he remains an answer to a trivia question: Who is the last SEC referee to work a national championship game? Shaw and his crew worked the 2005 Orange Bowl between Southern Cal and Oklahoma. Since that time, an SEC team has been involved in the national title game nine times, so officials from a neutral conference have worked the game.