FRISCO, Texas — When Oklahoma State faced Central Michigan last season, the nation took notice. The Cowboys led the Chippewas in the final seconds, but an incorrect call gave CMU an extra play. They completed an incredible touchdown pass to win the game.
If a Big 12 replay center had been in place, the play never would have happened. Oklahoma State would’ve won and gone on to finish the season 11-2.
“Do these incidents create catalyst for change? They absolutely do,” said Walt Anderson, Big 12 coordinator of officials.
The Big 12 will create a central command replay center this season. It will be housed next to league headquarters in Frisco, and it will feature an official team that will monitor games. The center will stay in constant contact with football officiating crews.
The conference has been experimenting with this idea for two seasons. It will be used during every Big 12 home game that features a Big 12 officiating crew. That includes every nonconference Big 12 home game, excluding Texas-Maryland, Iowa State-Iowa, and Texas Tech-Arizona State.
Anderson emphasized that the Big 12 hopes to shorten games. There are three changes the league is instituting to address the issue. Division I games lasted an average of 3 hours, 24 minutes last season.
First, halftimes will be set at 20 minutes — no exceptions. Many schools have asked for exceptions on homecoming or Senior Day, but extra time no longer will be allowed.
Additionally, there will be emphasis on starting the clock when a player goes out of bounds. Rather than waiting for the ball to be spotted, officials will start the clock as the ball is being spotted to speed things up.
Finally, media breaks will be enforced more effectively to keep the clock moving.
The Big 12 is instituting the “Zach Cunningham rule,” which limits the number of defenders on field goals. Players not lined up at the line of scrimmage are no longer allowed to jump over linemen. Those on the line are allowed to do that if they use their hands to launch themselves, but no other body parts.
Previously, such a play would only be penalized if a player landed on another player.
“What the rules committee wanted to do was take away the requirement for contact, be it his opponent or a teammate,” Anderson said.
There also has been a substantial edit to the horse-collar penalty. The change has to do with where a player is allowed to grab. Rather than just emphasize the collar, there will be a penalty called if a defender pulls down on the shoulder pads.
Also, if a defender pulls down the quarterback by his pads after he has released the ball, it will still be treated as if he is a ball carrier.
“The philosophy and intent of the rule is to protect them for this type of action, whether or not they had the football,” Anderson said.
Coaching decorum will be enforced much more closely in 2017. Any time a coach comes onto the field of play to complain, he will be given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Two such penalties could lead to an ejection.
“If I were a coach, I’d make sure a get-back coach grabs me and prevents that,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, if he’s been called for it once, he’d be at risk of being disqualified.”