HOOVER, Ala. -- In a move to further protect players from dangerous hits, the SEC has defined a "strike zone" from below the neck to above the knees in which an unabated defender may attempt to tackle an "offensive player in a passing posture."
"This is a player safety issue," said Steve Shaw, the SEC's coordinator of officials.
Shaw, who spoke at SEC media days Wednesday, said the rule to protect quarterbacks from being hit below the knees will be enforced regardless of whether the hit occurs inside or outside the pocket. A penalty will not be called, however, if a defender is blocked into the quarterback.
"When a player is under his own power, he's directing his hit and he chooses to go low, that is going to be a foul," Shaw said.
"This rule change, I think, will create the player behavior change."
Shaw also touched on last season's controversial targeting penalty in his address, calling it "the biggest change of my officiating career."
Last season, the NCAA changed the penalty for targeting defenseless players with hits to the head by adding an ejection to the 15-yard penalty.
"What were the results of that?" he said. "Well, first of all, let me say we simply had to change player behavior for the good of the game. I believe we started to see this type of player behavior change that we were looking for."
Shaw said "the trend is good," citing fewer targeting penalties in the second half of last season. Shaw said 14 targeting calls were made in the first eight weeks last season and only five after that.
One change to the rule is that both the ejection and 15-yard penalty can be overturned if officials decide upon review that the foul was incorrectly called.
Shaw did point out, though, that the 15-yard penalty will stand if another foul occurs on the same play.
"Any time there's a targeting foul, you need to really listen to the referee's announcement," he said. "What you will hear ... makes all the difference for replay. If you hear him announce, 'Personal foul, roughing the passer with targeting,' now regardless of the review, that 15-yard penalty is going to stand for roughing the passer. Same thing with kick/catch interference with targeting, late hit with targeting. In that announcement, if there are multiple components to the targeting foul, the 15-yard penalty will stay in."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.