ACC Supervisor of Officials, Dennis Hennigan speaks during officiating forum at ACC Kickoff

Charlotte, NC – On July 13, ACC Supervisor of Officials, Dennis Hennigan held an officiating forum at the 2017 ACC Football Kickoff. Below is a transcript from the forum.

Dennis Hennigan

ACC Supervisor of Officials Dennis Hennigan

THE MODERATOR: All right, folks. We will now begin our officiating forum. At this time I will just turn it over to the ACC Supervisor of Officials, Dennis Hennigan.

DENNIS HENNIGAN: Thanks, Ken. I’m sure this is what you’ve all been waiting for all day is to talk officiating. Here’s what I’d like to accomplish. I’m going to review the 2016 season and then talk about the changes for 2017, and I got a little bit of video to show you at the end of this.

First 2016. From an officiating standpoint, we showed some great improvement from 2015, and obviously we want to keep that going forward for 2017. The average number of plays in the ACC went up five last year from 178 up to 183, and that’s a trend that we’re seeing across the country with most teams going at a faster pace, not huddling, so I think that trend is going to continue.

We had several games where there were over 200 plays during the game.

Just some numbers regarding 2016. In regard to the fouls that were called, and this has remained the same throughout the country for as long as I can remember. These are the fouls that are called most often: False start, and then the two really judgment calls that we are really questioned most on, offensive holding and defensive pass interference, and as I say, our numbers are similar to other numbers you see from the other conferences.

A little bit about targeting. In the ACC we had 18 targeting calls, and if you remember, last year there was the rule change which allowed targeting to be called from the replay booth, and we had two of those targeting calls that were initiated by the replay official.

Now, nationally I put these numbers up here. You can see that there was one targeting call every six games across the country. This is at the FBS level, so there was one every six games, and replay — of course every targeting call is reviewed by replay, and you can see that targeting — or replay upheld 71 percent of the targeting fouls that were called throughout the country, a little bit down from the prior year, and I think that’s because when a targeting foul now goes to replay, replay really looks at it fresh, and they look at the entire action that occurred during that play, and that really was a change from prior years where replay would only look at certain aspects of the targeting call.

So when there’s a targeting call on the field, then it goes up to replay. They’re looking at it fresh. So as I say, we have one every six games across college football.

Just some numbers on home versus visitors. And you can see that the difference between all games and conference games. It drops the — the winning percentage drops from 60 percent to 47 percent for conference games, and you can also see that the points scored go down a little bit. And based on my research, I think this was the first time in a long time where the visiting team won more conference games in the ACC than the home team did, in 2016.

So that’s a little bit of review of 2016. Now I want to turn to this year, and the first topic I’ll discuss is the one that’s probably gotten the most attention, and that’s sideline management. The rules committee wanted to address the situation of coaches coming on to the field to express disagreement with or object to officiating decisions, so what we’re trying to do really is to change the behavior of coaches, and I emphasize that it’s really a small minority of coaches that will be affected by this change.

Now starting in 2017, coaches who enter the field of play to express disagreement with or object to an officiating decision will be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the past we would give a warning. In the past you would see an official walk a coach back to the sideline in an attempt to defuse the situation. That will not occur in 2017. Coach steps on to the field to object to a call, there will be a flag thrown, and it will be a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.

Now, last year there was a rule put in place that really brought football in line with other sports, and that rule states that if you get two unsportsmanlike fouls you’re disqualified from the game, and that rule obviously will be in effect in 2017. So a coach who would get two unsportsmanlike fouls would be disqualified.

And this, of course, applies to assistant coaches as well as head coaches. It doesn’t apply just to the head coach.

Now, the purpose of this rule is not to try to eliminate emotional reaction of coaches in the heat of the moment. Our coaches are passionate. It’s an emotional game, and we expect them to react emotionally. All we want is for that to occur on the sideline and to leave the field of play to the players and to the officials.

So as I say, this point of emphasis has gotten some attention this offseason. Hopefully it will not be a big issue. But again, there’s no warning that will be given to a coach who comes on the field to object to an officiating decision or to express disagreement with a call that we made. So long as they stay on the sideline, things will be okay.

Now, the rules that have governed coaches in the past regarding their conduct while on the sideline, those remain in place. Nothing has changed there. And many teams will step on to the field to signal plays. We’re not penalizing that action. A coach wants to call a time-out, that’s not what this rule is intended to address. It’s only intended to address those few instances where a coach comes on to the field really to show his displeasure with an officiating decision. And this is a national point of emphasis. This is certainly not restricted to our conference, and the hope and the expectation is that it’ll be uniformly applied across the country. As I say, with our coaches, they’ve been fully briefed on it, and we really don’t expect it to be a problem.

Are there questions about that change? I’ll be glad to entertain them.

Q. Just clarification: If a head coach gets a flag and then an assistant coach gets a flag, there’s no disqualification, it has to be the same person getting the flag twice, correct?
DENNIS HENNIGAN: That’s correct. Yeah, in order to be disqualified, the individual coach would have to get two fouls. Any more questions about that?

Good, I hope it’s a non-issue.

The second point of emphasis has to do with game length, and not only in football but in a lot of sports, there’s been talk lately about how long games go, and specifically with college football, the rules committee looked at several rule changes in an attempt to address this, such things as not stopping the clock after a 1st down, starting the clock after the ball is spotted after an incomplete pass, and some other things. But what they decided to do was rather than change the rules of the game, they want us as administrators and officials to take some certain steps in an attempt to increase the pace of the game and as a result to decrease the length of the game. So a couple things you might notice this year.

For halftime, in the past what the referee would do is the half would end, he would go to the end zone where the officials’ locker room is. He would wait for the teams to leave the field, usually wait for the coach who’s getting interviewed to at least get by him, and then he would start the 20-minute halftime clock. We’re going to make a change this year, and when I say we, again, I mean across the country. When the first half ends, the referee will make sure that there wasn’t a foul or that the play is being reviewed by replay, and if all is clear on those points, he is going to start the clock immediately, right from where the half ends on the field. There will be no more waiting for the teams to leave the field. There won’t be any waiting for coaches to do interviews.

The rule book provides that the halftime is 20 minutes, and the rules committee wants us to get as close to that 20 minutes as possible. So we will be starting the halftime clock quicker than we have in the past.

We want to try and start not only the game but the second half in a timely manner, and we also want to make sure that media time-outs are the agreed-upon length, so what you will see — in the past you would see the person in the red hat who would really control the length of media time-outs. Now this year what you’re going to see is when he gets 30 seconds from his producer, he’s going to leave the field. The officials will take over the timing from that point on. It will be that way at the start of the second half, and it will be that way for all media time-outs.

So these are just some things that we’re going to try and do across college football to see if we can get the length of games down to a more manageable number.

Now in terms of rule changes for 2017. The way the rules process works in college football, it’s on a two-year cycle, and we’re in the second year of a cycle, which means that the only rule changes that can be implemented have to do with safety. So we have two rule changes this year.

The first one addresses the play which started to gain some popularity last year, both in the NFL and in college, and I’m talking about the situation on a field goal or an extra point where a defensive player would start six or seven yards on the defensive side of the ball, time his hurdle perfect, hurdle over the offensive lineman, and essentially be standing next to the kicker when the kicker kicked the ball. And what the rules committee decided is that that type of play really created a risk of injury to the hurdling player. The concern was that if as he was hurdling the offensive guard, the offensive guard stood up, that that defensive player would be placed at risk, a risk of being flipped and landing on his head. So they decided that, again, in the interest of safety, to eliminate that play, so that will not be allowed going forward.

The other safety issue has to deal with the horse collar tackle. Up until this year, a horse collar tackle, in order for it to be a foul, you had to grab the collar, the inside collar of the back or the side of the ball carrier’s jersey and pull him immediately to the ground. They’ve added to the definition of horse collar this year, so now if you grab the nameplate area on the back and you pull the ball carrier to the ground, this will be a foul. You no longer have to grab the inside of the jersey. So if you grab the nameplate area, that will be a horse collar tackle this year and will be a foul.

So those are the two rule changes. That’s all, and it’s the fewest changes I’ve seen in many years.

Now, there was another rule change that I’ll just mention, and it has to do with pants. You’ll recall that there were some issues last year with players wearing what could only charitably be called pants. So what they decided to do was to put — change the rule so that pants have to cover the knees, which seems logical. However, they’ve postponed that, the implementation of that, until next year, until 2018. So our instructions this year are that pants must reach at least the top of the knee, okay, and then next year the rubber will meet the road when the rule comes in play that says pants have to cover the knee. Again, hopefully that’s not an issue.

Just two other rules that I’ll mention. One is blocking below the waist, which quite honestly is difficult to officiate, difficult to understand, and difficult to coach. This year for the first time in several years, there are no changes to the rule, but the rules committee has sent out a survey to coaches about some possible changes for it, for next year. So we’re not done with that rule.

And the last rule is the ineligible downfield. You may recall that a few years ago, there was a push to reduce the rule which says you can’t be more than three yards downfield before the quarterback releases the ball, to reduce that three yards to one yard, and that was approved during the rule-making process, and then before it got to the final approval stage it was disapproved, if you will, but there’s still a push out there to take a look at that rule, and again, coaches are being surveyed about that, so that is a possibility going forward in 2018.

So that’s 2016, and that’s 2017. And if there are no questions, there’s some — yes, sir?

Q. (Indiscernible.)
DENNIS HENNIGAN: Yes. Interesting dichotomy there. But yeah, you can still hurdle if you’re the ball carrier.

Q. (Indiscernible.)
DENNIS HENNIGAN: The horse collar does not include front of the jersey.

Q. (Indiscernible.)
DENNIS HENNIGAN: Yes, the horse collar applies only to the side or the back, so you can grab somebody in the front, and it’s not a foul.

Okay, I’ve got some plays to show you now, and they have to do with offensive holding and defensive pass interference, and I thought since there weren’t a lot of rule changes that it would be interesting for you folks to see some plays and for me to tell you how we as officials, how I as a supervisor look at these plays and what we’re looking for in terms of a foul or not a foul. And the first group we’re going to look at are defensive pass interference, and you probably remember this play, but let’s take a look at it.

(Video shown.)

Now, how many think that’s a foul? You could all work for me. We did have a flag on this for a hold, but this is the type of play where we’re seeing this a lot now. We seem to have a run of wide receivers who are 6’5″, and what teams will do is they’ll just throw these jump ball passes into the corner of the end zone, these fade passes with the 6’5″ wide receiver and the 5’10” defensive back, and from an officiating standpoint, what we tell our officials to look for is if the offensive receiver can get both arms up in the air to make a play on the ball, there is no foul. That’s what he is looking at. Can the receiver get his hands up in the air? Which this player clearly could. I mean, there’s contact right off the line of scrimmage here, but there’s not sufficient contact here for defensive interference. The receiver could make a play on the ball. So that’s what we’re looking at on this type of play.

Now, if one of his arms was pinned to his side, yes, we want a flag. But if he can get both arms up in the air to reach for the pass, then we’re good with no flag.

The next play is a similar type of play.

(Video shown.)

And by the way, what I tell our officials is when you throw a flag, would you be comfortable calling back the game-winning score in the Conference Championship game with that flag? And if you are, then throw the flag. But if you’re not, you’d better keep that flag in your pocket.

So if we could go on to the next play. We’ve got a similar type play here down at the bottom.

(Video shown.)

A lot of contact, no flag, and rightfully so. The offensive player — great play by the defensive player. We don’t want to penalize great plays. I mean, that’s close, but we want to let that go.

Now, on this next play — this next play is, again, an example of a play we see a lot and you see a lot. It’s a defensive player who has his back to the quarterback. He’s not playing the ball. And when you’re in that position defensively, we give you very little leeway, okay. And any early contact is going to be a foul. You’re not playing the ball. At the very least, you need to turn your head around. I think we get another look at this.

(Video shown.)

And again, it’s the type of play we see a lot, a defensive back just not playing the ball.

Now, here’s a play over the middle that we get a flag on and we shouldn’t have had a flag on.

(Video shown.)

Just a bang-bang play. Both players have an equal right to the ball. He didn’t play through the back. When a defensive player plays through the back of on offensive player, you see the offensive player’s body react. It gets knocked forward. He gets — there’s some sort of reaction. Here there’s no reaction. This is just a good play by this defensive back. I think it’s the guy at the top of the screen. Just a good play. I mean, even the receiver didn’t think it was —

Now, watch this play initially and tell me if you think this is interference.

(Video shown.)

Doesn’t look like much, does it? Now, the back judge is in great position. He’s just where we want him to be. But the Clemson coach knows. You’ll see him come into the picture. I remember watching this, and when it happened initially, I didn’t think there was much there. Just a little push there, and again, our back judge was in great position to make that call, wiped out an interception.

On this next play, we get another example of not playing the ball.

(Video shown.)

And early contact. See, there’s not a lot of contact there by the defensive back, but he’s got his back to the ball, his back to the quarterback, and he does make contact, and again, we see this often, and from an officiating standpoint, nine times out of ten, he gets there early, the defensive back gets there early.

Now, our last play for pass interference, I want to show you another example of a type of play we’ll see, and we call it a cutoff.

(Video shown.)

And it’s up at the top of the screen. He just cuts off the receiver’s path to the ball. I mean, there has to be some contact to have pass interference in college. It’s not like the high school rule. There’s not a lot there, but these defensive backs are so good that they just — he just rides him out of bounds, rides him off his path to the ball, and that’s pass interference, and it was rightly called.

Let me turn now to offensive holding. I often hear that you can have holding on every play. Just some things that we look at when it comes to holding.

(Video shown.)

We’re looking at whether or not the defensive player, whether there was a significant restriction on his ability to affect the play, okay. Some telltale signs: If an offensive lineman gets beat, he typically reaches out and grabs. That’s one thing we look at, okay. If an offensive lineman who’s pulling, oftentimes they overrun the play, defensive player cuts inside, they reach out and grab, so we watch guys who are pulling. Is the defensive player trying to make a play, or in officiating talk, is he just happy to be there? Is he just trying to turn a play in, which often happens on wide plays, a defensive back. He’s not really trying to make a play. There may be a grab there, but when I was on the field, I used to say to players, you have to earn the hold. The player would complain he’s getting held, and I would say, well, you’re not even trying to get away, and that’s what I would mean by you have to earn the hold.

If a player is held into making a tackle, we typically don’t call that, okay. It may be holding, but he made the tackle, so we won’t call that.

But let’s just look at a couple of these. On this first one, watch the left tackle.

(Video shown.)

Holding? No. This is an example of a player who I think was just turning the play in. We did call it. I didn’t like the call. He was just turning the play in, and he wasn’t making a great effort to get away. This happens — I mean, if we call this, we’re going to have 15 holds a game, and we don’t get a great look at it here, but it’s 77. Not enough of a restriction there. If that No. 12 goes for a touchdown, I don’t want that called back because of that hold.

Now, on this play watch the center.

(Video shown.)

Those we can’t miss, and we got it. He clearly gets beat to the hole by the defensive player, and we get a good call here for a hold. And we get another look at this. Again, it’s the center, 54, I think. Clearly beat, and clearly a hold.

Now, on this next one we’re going to watch the right tackle.

(Video shown.)

Again, we’re looking for a significant restriction. I think you would agree we want something more than that before we throw a flag for a hold.

The next play we’re going to watch the left guard.

(Video shown.)

Again, the left guard here. You can see right there, this is a great example of an offensive lineman who’s beat. The defensive lineman shoots the gap, beats him, and his reaction is to just grab him around the neck. Clearly a hold, and you’ll see it again. See, he’s beat right now, and that’s one thing as officials that we’re looking for.

The next one has to do with wide receivers, and these are difficult plays. Watch the guy at the bottom, the top of the stack.

(Video shown.)

Not a hold. That defensive player spins on his own, okay. There’s a grab by the offensive player, but again, not enough to warrant a flag. Again, if this play goes for a touchdown, we don’t want it called back for that type of action.

Now, you can prove anything in slow motion, but when you watch that irregular speed, there’s not enough restriction. Now, watch the wide receiver at the bottom here. The reason we don’t want a flag there is he lets go in time, and that’s the issue on these wide plays with wide receivers. Do they let go in time for the defensive back to be able to make a play? And he did here. And so we don’t want a flag on those types of plays.

So that’s a little bit about offensive holding and how I look at it and how we teach our officials. We want it to be a significant restriction that hinders the defensive player’s ability to make a play.

Now, the last play I’m going to show you is — it shows the difficulty we face on some calls. I want you to tell me whether you think this is a catch and a touchdown or an incomplete pass. And we get a lot of views of it.

(Video shown.)

He loses the ball when he hits the ground. Let’s just take that as a given. There’s a couple more looks at it, I think. So what do you think, do we have a catch and a touchdown or do we have an incomplete pass? I would want this to be a touchdown. I think our NFL brethren might feel different about this, but in order to have a catch, we need possession, we need a body part down, and we need an element of time. And that’s where the judgment comes in. Did he hold on to the ball long enough to indicate that he had control of the ball? Did he hold on to it long enough so that he could really make a second act? And the way I look at this is he did have it long enough. The second act is him taking it from two hands to one and extending for the goal line. But this points out the difficulty of these catch/no-catch plays, and again, I think the NFL might have a different view of this, but I think he’s got it in two hands and he then transfers it to one, so I’m comfortable with that being a touchdown. It was called a touchdown on the field and replay upheld it. Just an interesting, difficult play to look at.

So that’s all I have. I’d be glad to answer any questions now or after.

What are irrelevant? Well, his feet were down when he caught the ball, and then he —

Q. (Indiscernible.)
DENNIS HENNIGAN: Well, sure. In order to have a catch, you still have to have a body part down. You need possession of the ball with a body part down, yeah.