Bronco Beat

Mountain West will experiment with 8th on-field official in football games this season

LAS VEGAS — Fans will notice three major officiating changes during the 2014 season. Mountain West Coordinator of Officials Ken Rivera briefed the media on the changes Wednesday at the conference media preview.

Here’s a rundown:

— The Mountain West and several other conferences will experiment with an eighth on-field official this season. The eight-person crews will work half of the conference games. The cost, roughly $1,500-$1,800 per game, will be covered by the home team. That means Boise State likely will pay $3,000-$3,600 for the experiment.

“When we proposed it, we went in with a lower scale because we wanted to be conscious of the budgets and resources,” Rivera said. “We asked for half of the loaf instead of the full loaf.”

The eighth official is a response to the pace of play with so many no-huddle, spread offenses. The “center judge” will be positioned in the offensive backfield opposite the referee. The referee stands on the front side of the quarterback; the center judge stands on the back side.

The center judge will spot the football and hold the offense while the defense substitutes when the defense is allowed to match an offensive substitution. The center judge also will handle holding and blocking fouls on that side of the field and watch for back-side hits on the quarterback.

In seven-person crews, the umpire will always spot the ball so the referee can watch for substitution issues. In the past, the referee sometimes spotted the ball.

Rivera said the eighth official will provide “better coverage, smooth transitions and better safety.”

The Big 12 experimented with eight-person crews last year. The conference saw an increase of one penalty per game.

This year, the Big Ten, ACC, AAC, Big 12 and SEC also will experiment with eight-person crews. The SEC has one eight-person crew. The Big Ten, ACC and AAC will use eight-person crews for all games.

Rivera showed a graphic that charted plays per game. The Mountain West led the nation with 194 plays per game last year (includes special teams). The league was seventh in 2012 with 178 plays per game.

College football began moving to seven-person crews in 1983.

The Big 12 announced recently that it will have a woman official this season. Catherine Conti actually has worked in the Mountain West for several years. The Mountain West and Big 12 are partners in an officiating cooperative, CFO West.

— The targeting rule was changed so that if the replay official overturns an ejection the penalty for targeting will be removed, too. Last year, teams still were penalized 15 yards when the ejection was overturned. That drove coaches nuts.

“By the midpoint in the season, we knew that was one of the rules changes we were going to try to establish this year,” Rivera said.

However, in cases where a second personal foul was committed, the penalty will stay. An example is the hit by Boise State cornerback Cleshawn Page on a Colorado State punt returner last year. It wasn’t targeting, but it was still kick-catch interference. The interference penalty stays.

Boise State had at least two ejections overturned last year — for Page and linebacker Darren Lee. Safety Dillon Lukehart was ejected against BYU. That penalty was confirmed and the hit was included in the Big 12’s training video on illegal hits. Lukehart also was suspended for the first half of the next game, against Colorado State, because he was ejected in the second half.

Rivera said the targeting rule has helped change the way players hit. Coaches and players polled by the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday at Mountain West media day were nearly all in favor of the rule, particularly now that the penalty can be overturned.

“The players and coaches are more aware of their contact points on hits to defenseless players,” Rivera said. “The game is still being played pretty hard and pretty vicious, but target areas are being lowered all around the country.”

— Like the NFL, college football is trying to take out low hits on the quarterback. A new rule will result in a roughing-the-passer penalty when an unabated defender makes forcible contact at the knee or below on a player in passing posture (including running backs). Defenders also can’t roll or lunge and forcibly hit the knee or lower. The penalty can be called outside the pocket but the player has to set up in a passing posture.

Email me at ccripe@idahostatesman.com.

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