Ed Hochuli: “The rule changes that have been made over the last few years to protect defenseless players are 100% good things.”August 30, 2011 – 7:00 am by Steven Cuce
The NFL competition committee enacted several rule changes for the 2011 season this offseason, the primary (and most controversial) ones being changes to kickoffs and the review of scoring plays. The league has shortened the distance of kickoffs by 5 yards from the 35 to the 30-yard line, and has mandated that officials may review any and all scoring plays at their discretion.
One of the most popular names in NFL officiating is Ed Hochuli. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, the older referee’s impressive guns and distinctly thorough explanations would be instantly recognizable to anybody who tunes in regularly on NFL Sundays.
Ed Hochuli joined XTRA 910 in Phoenix with Bickley and MJ to discuss rule changes for this upcoming NFL season, being able to see and feel a difference in NFL violence since he became a referee in 1990, helmet-to-helmet hits being heavily enforced, every scoring play in the NFL this season being reviewable and other rule changes that may have come up in the past that are a point of emphasis in this upcoming NFL season.
What are some rules you are trying to enforce this season? What are the biggest changes?
“Well the biggest and most obvious change that people would notice would be that we are kicking off from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line. They’ve also moved the kicking tee. People may not have noticed this, but if you look closely the people on the kicking tee are moved up five yards from the ball. They can’t get a big running head start. The theory is to slow them down a little bit and perhaps increase the number of touchbacks, but I guess the most dangerous play from an injury numbers standpoint is kickoffs because you have both teams coming together at full speed, so they tried to accommodate that a little bit.”
Have you been able to see or feel the difference in the game in terms of it getting faster or more violent over your time referring? Have you been able to feel it from a “boots on the ground” kind of level?
“Oh absolutely. Absolutely. The game…this is my twenty-second year at the NFL and the game is so different now than it was twenty-two years ago. The players are bigger and they keep getting bigger. They are faster and the techniques have been getting better and the hits are getting harder. The game has really changed and I think the rule changes that have been made over the last few years to protect defenseless players are 100% good things. It doesn’t change the game. All you have to do is lower your targets. Instead of going for the head you go for the middle of the body and we see plays every week where a guy goes for the body with a shoulder and breaks up the pass and the receiver drops the pass and everybody gets up and goes back to the huddle instead of somebody getting carried off the field.”
Were the numbers up last year in terms of helmet-to-helmet penalties because the rules weren’t as enforced as much as they are now?
“I do not believe it was called…I do not know the statistics, but I could tell you based on my crew and my games. It wasn’t called anymore than it was called the year before. Players are aware and players are making a change. Even a lot of players who felt that was the way I have been taught. They’ve made the adjustment, so I don’t think the penalty numbers are up. We still have them in all and we still had a couple in the preseason this year in my games, but I don’t think the numbers are up.”
Let’s talk about every scoring play being reviewable this year:
“When something is being reviewed that doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is stopped and the referee goes to the booth. There is a member of my crew, who is a replay assistant, who is up in the booth and he looks at those plays. Every play under two minutes, every scoring play, he looks at it to see if he can prove from the video that what we did on the field was correct. If you can then we don’t stop the game, so all scoring plays doesn’t mean we are going to go stop the game or we are going to go look at it under the booth. It just means if he cannot prove from looking at the video of a TV video that our ruling was correct he will stop the game and look at it and usually what happens then once the game is stopped there are a lot more replays that TV has that they haven’t had a chance to show yet and they show the rest of them. There will be a little more of a delay this year, but we’re working the kinks out and I don’t think there will be much of a delay. It saves the team from having to challenge scoring plays if we made a mistake. The way the procedure works is after every scoring play I’ve got a pager on my belt and after every scoring play I get a page. It either says ‘confirmed,’ which means he has been able to confirm by the video up there that what we did was correct and we will not stop the game or it will say ‘review,’ in which case I will stop the game and go over and look at it under the hood.”
Anything else we need to know about rule changes for this upcoming NFL season?
“Replay and kickoffs are the big thing. There is another point of emphasis in regards to safety of players. That’s something we talked a little bit about, but that is always an emphasis, but other then that there isn’t anything special going on. A lot of little things we get as officials such as enforcement issues, but they don’t affect the fans.”