When Oklahoma State faced Central Michigan last season, the nation took notice. The Cowboys were leading 27-24, and on the final play, on fourth down, they threw the ball away. The officials incorrectly called intentional grounding and gave Central Michigan an untimed down. The Chippewas completed an incredible Hail Mary play to win the game.
If a Big 12 replay center had been in place, the play never would have happened and Oklahoma State would have gone on to finish the season 11-2.
“Do these incidents create catalyst for change? They absolutely do,” Walt Anderson, Big 12 coordinator of officials, said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days.
The Big 12 will officially create a central command replay center, which will be hosted next to league headquarters in Frisco, Texas. It will feature an official team keeping an eye on games. They will stay in constant contact with officiating crews.
It will be involved with every Big 12 home game that features a Big 12 officiating crew. That includes every nonconference Big 12 home game, other than Maryland-Texas, Iowa-Iowa State, and Arizona State-Texas Tech.
Anderson emphasized the Big 12 hopes to shorten games and 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, halftime will be set at 20 minutes — no exceptions. Many teams would ask for exceptions for homecoming or senior days, but those will no longer 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.
Finally, media breaks will be enforced more effectively to keep the clock moving.
The Big 12 is instituting the “Zach Cunningham rule,” which limits defenders on field goals. Players not lined up at the line of scrimmage are no longer allowed to jump over linemen using pure athleticism. Those lined up on the line are allowed to if they use their hands to launch themselves, but no other body parts.
Previously, that play would only be called a penalty if the 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 is also 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 anytime a defender grabs the shoulder pads to pull down.
Also, if a player pulls the quarterback down 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 as well. Any time a coach comes out on the field to complain, he will be given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. If he gets called twice, the coach can be ejected.
“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.”