SEC's Steve Shaw addresses new hires, rule changes

The SEC will adopt a number of officiating-related changes in the upcoming season. John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

DESTIN, Fla. -- SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw's announcement that the conference will shift to eight-person officiating crews was not the only referee-related news that was delivered at the SEC spring meetings on Thursday.

During an hour-long meeting with reporters where he addressed a number of rule changes and new factors for the league's officials, Shaw said the SEC is not just adding eight new center judges to complete the expanded officiating crews. It has already hired two new referees -- Brad Rogers and John McDaid -- who will replace the retiring Matt Moore and Penn Wagers.

"They're not rookies coming in where we've got to protect them for a couple years," Shaw said of Rogers and McDaid.

Rogers has worked as an SEC supplemental official for a few years prior to this promotion, Shaw said, and McDaid is a veteran official who worked in the AAC and Big East. McDaid was an official in the Alabama-Texas game that determined the BCS champion at the end of the 2009 season.

Shaw said Moore "physically had some challenges and I think it was just time for him to retire. We had a great conversation and what I hope, he's going to take a year off and I hope he has a consideration of coming back and working with us in the replay booth. He'd be great."

As for Wagers, Shaw said he and the often-controversial official came to a mutual agreement that it was time that he hang up his SEC whistle.

"Penn and I had had a conversation over the last couple of years and kind of had identified that the 2014 season would be his last season," Shaw said. "But ... he may work in another conference. You may see his smiling face somewhere on Saturday and you may not."

Among the other subjects that Shaw addressed on Thursday:

Proper ball inflation: Shaw said the SEC is not changing a rule regarding proper inflation of game balls -- it remains the standard 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch -- but the league's officials will pay close attention to the issue following the "Deflategate" controversy that marred the New England Patriots' run to a Super Bowl title.

Coaches will have the ability to have balls rechecked at halftime if they believe something is awry.

"If there's a concern either way -- whether through the officials or coaches -- we're going to take them all back in at halftime and test them and they'd better still be where they were," Shaw said. "So we're going to be more cognizant, but we're not going to change. Our procedure has worked very, very well and so we're just going to have kind of a heightened awareness and the coach will have an opportunity to have us retest them if he feels he needs it at halftime.

"And then if balls are out of scope at that point, from a game perspective, we're just going to fix them, but we're going to make a note and report that."

New uniform rules: Shaw addressed two new rules related to player uniforms: a ban on overbuilt facemasks and a change that prevents players from tucking their jerseys underneath their shoulder pads.

Any player not wearing his equipment properly will be asked to leave the field for a play, Shaw said, or until the issue has been corrected.

Some within the sport expressed concern that the ornate facemasks that became popular in recent seasons might cause players' fingers to get caught within the bars of the facemask, and Shaw added that the additional weight of those masks created a safety issue.

"Some of them with the weight can impact the integrity of the helmet," Shaw said. "But secondarily, and probably more importantly, the weight tends to pull the head forward. And as you know, we've all talked about heads-up tackling, see what you hit. The last thing we want guys doing is lowering their head."

As for the jersey rule, Shaw said the intent is to prevent the player's back from being exposed and also to aid the officials if they need to identify his jersey number, such as when they would be assessing a penalty.

"Now when you [hear], ‘What's the big deal if they wear their jersey up?' and all that, they need to keep those back pads covered to protect themselves, and for identification purposes," Shaw said.

Pile penalty/new replay possibility: Shaw said a new rule will make it a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to pull an opponent off the pile following a play.

The rule is intended to reduce post-play skirmishes.

"You've seen it where we have a fumble, we have a big pileup and then people start going in and pulling people out," Shaw said. "And now all of a sudden, we're having to officiate to keep from having fights all over the field."

Shaw also discussed an SEC instant replay modification that will apply to onside kicks.

Officials will now be able to review whether players from the kicking team began blocking opponents before they were eligible to do so. By rule, players on the kicking team are not allowed to touch the ball -- or to block their opponents -- until the ball travels 10 yards unless a player from the receiving team touches the ball first.

More on medical observers: SEC commissioner Mike Slive said earlier this week that the league plans to have an independent medical observer in the replay booth for all conference and nonconference football games.

The medical officials will be able to stop games should the teams' on-field training staffs and the officiating crew miss a potential injury.

Shaw revealed on Thursday that Florida was the pilot program for the initiative during the 2014 season.

"I think it will be very rare when the medical observer takes impact in the game," Shaw said. "But in that situation where they might, it could save a player from worse injury or concussion or whatever. So I think it's a safety component. It's a no-regrets. If they never stop a game, you haven't lost anything, but if they stop and protect one player, [it's useful]."