DESTIN, Fla. - As the game of football continues to speed up, the SEC will experiment with one more official on the field, and evaluate after the season whether to adopt it permanently.
When an offense is in a no-huddle, the center-judge will be in charge of spotting the football. That frees up the referee and umpire to handle their other pre-snap duties and get into position.
"This gives us another set of eyes," SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said.
There are nine officiating crews in the SEC. One of those crews, the one led by referee Matt Loeffler, will get an eight official. He will be termed a center judge and wear a "C" on his back, and be positioned in the offensive backfield, opposite the referee.
That crew will rotate around to see every one of the 14 SEC teams this year. That way each team and its coaching staff will be able to provide feedback to the conference office, and decide how to proceed in 2015.
"It's still an experimental rule," Shaw said. "And (we can) really see if this is beneficial to our game."
The Big 12 experimented with an eight-man crew last season, but rotated the eighth man among different crews. Shaw is hoping that keeping it with Loeffler's crew will provide a better test case.
The first year of targeting had its bumps, but overall it worked, Shaw proclaimed.
"We got a lot of people saying, Oh you're ruining the game, this is killing the game. ... Y'all probably can figure it out, but there weren't many years more exciting in college football," Shaw said. "So targeting didn't ruin the game."
The key, according to Shaw, was that it changed player behavior, and to illustrate that he cited the stats: There were 19 targeting calls in the SEC last year, 14 of which were in the first eight weeks, with only five in the final seven weeks.
"I can go through film and show you more and more, where as the season wore on you would see a play where the ball was overthrown, the safety is coming across, in prior years he would have left a calling card with that guy," Shaw said, punching his hand with his fist for emphasis. "Now he would either back off or insure that he hits him below the neck. So I think the player component part, and the coaching part, and the officiating part, is getting better and better."
Shaw said one of those five targeting calls was overturned. His hope this year is to have none overturned, but he said he understood that would be difficult.
This year, however, replay can overturn not just the ejection for targeting, but the 15-yard penalty.
Pace of play
Shaw said he had a "long and productive discussion" with SEC head coaches about the pace-of-play argument, and specifically how quickly a ball is snapped. The debate between the fast offenses (such as Auburn) and those favoring traditional speed of the game (Alabama and Arkansas) has been a heated one.
"It's a Democrat-Republican issue," Shaw said, smiling. "There are some Democrats and some Republicans and they're probably never gonna change sides."
He added later: "I am not voting Democrat or Republican."
More than a decade ago, Georgia head coach Mark Richt tried to play a hurry-up offense, and eventually abandoned it because some crews wouldn't place the ball fast enough to make it work. As more offenses went to a hurry-up and no-huddle, officials have become more uniform in placing the ball.
Shaw said Thursday he was sensitive to the criticism that some crews have been faster to place the ball than others. To that end, officials nationally have been instructed on just how quickly to proceed to the line of scrimmage to place it.
"The words to them are: You will not walk, you will not sprint to spot the ball. We expect a crisp jog," Shaw said.
This and that
Other than replay overturning a targeting call, the other major rule change this year is that quarterbacks cannot be hit below the knees while he is in a "passing posture," to use Shaw's term.
"The rule basically says that if a defender is under his own power, he can't hit the quarterback at the knees or below if the quarterback is in a passing posture," Shaw said. "He doesn't have to be in the pocket, but primarily he will be. He could scramble out, and re-set up." ...
The SEC experimented during Auburn's spring game allowing fans in the stadium to see the feed in the replay both. In other words, the video scoreboard showed the angles that the replay booth was seeing. Normally the video scoreboard shows what television is showing.
Shaw said he would be in favor of doing that in the fall when possible.
"They (the fans) saw the money shot. They saw why we were not going to overturn this play. So the knowledgeable fans look up and see: 'OK, they saw that call right, they're not gonna overturn it,' " Shaw said. "I want us to use technology perspective to be better any way we can."