ACC Head Official Dennis Hennigan

With Doug Rhoads retiring during the offseason, the ACC had to search for a new head of officiating for its football officials. The league picked Dennis Hennigan as his replacement. Hennigan is a long-time official having previously worked in the Big East and most recently the ACC. Hennigan hails from Syracuse, NY where he works as an attorney.

Hennigan had his first session with the media at the 2015 ACC Media Kickoff for football where he covered the rule changes and fielded questions from the media. Hennigan noted was that this season will have “the least amount of changes in rules for any season” in his career. So, coaches, players, and fans should not expect anything substantial to change.

The biggest addition is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for any player that pushes or pulls an opposing player off the pile after the play is dead. The intent is to limit the number of after play “skirmishes” that occur – particularly on a play where a fumble has occurred.

The other big changes involve the plays that are reviewable by instant replay. Instant replay can now review the following:

1. Whether or not there was blocking by players on the kicking team prior to them being eligible to touch an onside kick (ie before the ball has travelled 10 yards). If the other team engages them in this zone, then they can protect themselves accordingly. If the receiving team recovers, they have to option to decline a replay review.

2. Whether or not there was a tip on a blocked punt attempt. If there would’ve been a penalty (eg running in to or roughing the kicker) and it was only not called because the tip happened, then the replay officials can look for a tip. If there was no tip, then a penalty can be applied.

3. Whether or not there was a tip on a pass play. If there would’ve been a penalty (e.g. pass interference) on a pass play that wasn’t called due to the ball being tipped, then replay can review the play and if no tip occurred, then the pass interference penalty would be enforced.

4. Whether or not intentional grounding would’ve occurred if the quarterback had not been ruled to fumble the ball. In this case, the replay officials are looking at whether or not the quarterback fumbled the ball or whether it was an incomplete pass. If it is ruled to be an incomplete pass AND the on-field official determined it would’ve been intentional grounding had it been a pass, then the penalty will be enforced.

Other minor changes:

1. All of the NCAA will use 8 officials now – with the addition of the center judge being adopted across all of college football. The ACC used 8 officials in 2014 so this will be no change for the ACC.

2. Limits on “overbuilt” facemasks (those with lots of bars): This was done to limit the number of fingers getting caught in facemasks.

3. Illegal equipment: Any player deemed to be wearing illegal equipment will simply be sent off the field and not allowed to return until the equipment violation has been remedied. Previously, this violation also resulted in a timeout charged to the offending team.

4. During pregame warmups, the visiting team cannot be asked to leave the field until there are 22 minutes or less left on the pre-game clock – unless previously agreed upon.

5. In the event that the ball cannot be readied for play prior to the play clock running under 25 seconds (when counting down from 40 seconds), the officials will ask the clock operator to reset the clock to 25 seconds. If the game clock is running, it will not be stopped to do this.

6. Some inconsistencies in the rules with regard to what happens when a defensive player loses his helmet have been removed.

7. Protocol changes with regard to handling of game balls. This was obviously done in response to “Deflategate”.

Points of emphasis for the officials:

1. Pace of play: Officials will move as fast as they can to allow teams to play at the pace they wish to play (within the substitution protocol).

2. Targeting: This will continue to be a point of emphasis from previous years. Hennigan feels the coaches, players, and officials have done a good job of reducing the number of targeting penalties in previous years.

3. Unsportsmanlike conduct: Specifically, this is referring to taunting and/or demeaning acts.

4. Sideline management and control: Keeping coaches and players within the correct zones on the sideline.

One final note of interest to Georgia Tech fans, it was noted that the umpire has responsibility on field goal and extra point attempts to ensure that the center is not contacted improperly. Top Stories