July 11, 2017 6:23:29 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Any time Kirby Smart caught the attention of a television camera while he was Alabama's defensive coordinator, Scott Cochran was probably in the shot, too. Cochran was given the duty of sideline management, which often meant grabbing Smart by the belt loop to keep him from meandering onto the field in giving a defensive call.
Now when Smart steps on the field, he's at risk of earning an unsportsmanlike conduct call and a 15-yard penalty.
Coaches won't get such a penalty for relaying signals to their players, but they could get it if they do so in arguing a call with a referee. That's one of the directives for Southeastern Conference officials for the 2017 season, as detailed Tuesday at SEC Media Days by SEC Coordinator of Football Officials Steve Shaw.
"So this year, and this is not just Shaw and the SEC, this is a national component, and we have talked to every coach about it," Shaw said. "If a coach comes out onto the field of play, so in the green grass, and protests an officiating decision, it's an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct foul."
Shaw added the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties would apply to coaches as they do players, meaning if they would be ejected if they were to accrue two of them in the same game. Shaw said the intent of the rule is not to punish coaches, but to regulate their behavior to outside the field of play.
The message has been received.
"Well, certainly all us coaches have gotten our assignments, our coaches are going to hang on to us and make sure we don't go across that line," Smart said. "I'm obviously concerned about it at a critical time, but it is the rule, and we follow the rules. I think as head coaches we got to set a good example, and I think that's what the rules are in place for.
"You'd hate to see a game decided by something like that. But it's the rule. We've been briefed on it, and we all got to adhere to it."
In an off year for major rule changes in college football, a few tweaks will still be noticed in the 2017 season. The two that are most apparent in terms of affecting play relate to blocking kick attempts and the horse collar tackle penalty.
In attempting to block kicks, players are no longer allowed to run toward the line of scrimmage before the snap in an effort to hurdle over the opposing offensive line. Players are allowed to run at the line of scrimmage but are not allowed to hurdle the line if they do so; they are also allowed to attempt to hurdle the line if they do so from a stationary position along the line of scrimmage.
Shaw said the rule was passed in the vein of player safety.
"But what happens to him? He goes straight down on his head. And that's what you see more often than not," Shaw said, referencing when a standing lineman topples the would-be hurdler. "So this was player safety not only for the hurdler or the leaper, but also from the standpoint of as he's leaping, if the center pulls up, he can kick him in the head or whatever. So the Rules Committee felt that we just needed this play out of the game."
Shaw made that point with video a failed attempt from the previous year, but admitted the loss of an athletic play in the game when properly executed. Shaw showed video of when former Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham leaped over the line to block an Auburn field goal. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason couldn't help but crack a joke, even though he agrees with the premise of the rule.
"Zach made it illegal? That's nice," Mason said. "If the rule makers feel like that makes our game better, so be it. We'll show the reel from time to time. It will be good to see, but when it's all said and done, that's where we are in 2017."
The change regarding the horse collar tackle rule is one expanding it. In the past, players had to get their hand inside the collar of the ball carrier's shoulder pads to be flagged; now the rule includes the nameplate on the back of the jersey.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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