Big 12 Media Days: Player safety highlighted in rule changes

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Greg Burks, the Coordinator of Officials for Big 12 Conference athletics, presents football rule changes at the Big 12 Media Day on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This season, the debated “horns down” gesture will be deemed a celebration foul if the act is prolonged.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

Tuesday was Day 2 of 2019 Big 12 Media Days, signaling the start of football season closing in. Each year, several changes and tweaks are made to the game in order to improve the safety and quality of the game. 

Here a few notable changes announced.

New overtime rules after four periods

Although minimal, changes were made to the overtime period. While the first four periods of overtime remain the same — ball starts at the opponent’s 25-yard line on first down — every period after will now be a battle of two-point attempts. The rule comes in direct response to the seven-overtime game between LSU and Texas A&M that ended 74-72 in the Aggies’ favor. 

Fans will see slight changes on kickoffs as well. Players will no longer be able to create a two-man wedge. With this rule in place, players can’t be “shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other” in order to block for the returner. Coordinator of officials Greg Burks also made it clear that while the wedge is illegal, double teams are still perfectly within the rules.

“You are going to have plays where players are coming from separate angles and end up blocking the same player. That’s legal,” Burks said. “They just can’t come together, move up the field and then block.”

Blindside blocks ruled illegal

Player safety is always an area of concern with leagues constantly searching for ways to make the game safer.

The blindside block, one of the more dangerous plays in football, will be ruled illegal beginning next season, Burks said during the second day of Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday. Players can no longer make “an open field block against an opponent that is initiated from outside the opponent’s field of vision.” 

The only two exceptions are if the player is deemed a runner or if a receiver is attempting to make a catch. All other plays will be a personal foul resulting in a 15-yard penalty.

“We want to eliminate that clear where we really see somebody leveled and they don’t see the play coming at all,” Burks said. “In addition, if this action has all the elements of targeting … then it will be a targeting foul as well as a blindside block.”

Horns down debate lives on

The news rules enforced won’t all be as serious as concussion-causing blocks or making sure players aren’t overexerted. Some of them came down to simple values of pride and tradition.

Last year, the “horns down” gesture was a highly debated topic as opponents would turn the Longhorns hand signal upside down in celebration. Officials began to throw a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This year, the decision still leaves many gray areas on what will be penalized. 

One of the more memorable instances happened last November when West Virginia quarterback Will Grier was penalized for flashing the gesture after running in the game-winning two-point conversion.

Both sides of the argument have been presented in the past year. However, Burks set the record straight at the beginning of the second day

“Somehow I knew I was going to get that question today,” Burks said. “If somebody scores real quickly, turns to their cheering section (and) it’s real quick and moves on, we’re probably not going to react to that. If they happen to turn to the other crowd or the other bench or it’s prolonged to a player, it would be like any unsportsmanlike act.”