HOOVER, Ala. — And for its next stunt ...

The Southeastern Conference seems to be jammed into the cockpit of the jet in “Airplane!”

Cue up Leslie Nielsen.

“Good luck. We’re all counting on you.”

God speed as well.

But what the hey. It was just 50 years ago that man first walked on the moon. That seemed pretty unlikely, too.

So maybe it’s too soon to scoff, let alone ridicule.

The SEC’s self-imposed challenge is not just another major hurdle for a conference that once won seven straight national championships, but a powerful giant leap for mankind.

The conference, to hijack a phrase, is committing itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of perfecting football officiating and returning the game safely to the hands of the players.

Not because it is easy, but because it is hard — and maybe the fact that 14 fan bases seem to get spit-spewing mad every fall Saturday, some threatening to organize protest marches to the offices of SEC, Inc., in Birmingham.

Some more than others.

“We know there’s an ongoing need for self-examination,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.

It’s a noble undertaking. Possibly a thankless job.

But, as outlined by Sankey on Monday and expounded on Tuesday by SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw, there are some specifics to the plan.

An outside consulting agency did a thorough review of every play called by SEC officials. It talked with coaches and athletic directors and officials.

The crews’ head officials were at the spring meetings in Destin, Fla., to meet directly with head coaches — male-bonding at its best.

They’re updating the conflict of interest rules for which officials can call which games.

Sankey said that the extensive study concluded that the SEC’s officials are actually pretty good — “perceived to better manage the game when compared to their peers” with the trust of head coaches.

Fine.

Sounds pretty simple. Fans will never have opportunity to blame it on the refs or the location of the SEC office again.

They apparently found no evidence that the SEC offices being a stone’s throw from the University of Alabama had any negative effect on the quality of the calls.

So no, the SEC offices aren’t moving to Ville Platte.

But the maneuver that may be flying too close to the sun came, as so many dangerous notions do, when they got the internet involved.

There is actually a web site, readily accessible to fans — secsports.com/officiating — that surely will explain why every call that goes against your team was the correct call.

Or maybe even — given the league’s new commitment to transparency — why it wasn’t the right the call and your school got jobbed by Alabama again.

That wasn’t enough.

The officials will also have a twitter account — @SECOfficiating — that in less than 24 hours after it was unveiled had 24,000 followers.

What could go wrong with that?

But bring popcorn anyway. The interaction should be ... interesting.

Who knows how LSU fans might have lit the thing up during an interesting season tangling with the zebras.

But if it’s any solace to LSU fans, the Tigers were directly or indirectly responsible for three rules changes in effect for this season.

Remember LSU quarterback Joe Burrow getting blindsided (and dang near decapitated) by a Central Florida defender in the Fiesta Bowl?

It looked like a notify-nextof-kin situation, but no flag was thrown.

Rules experts said that by the letter of law it wasn’t a penalty.

It would be this season.

Shaw used the Burrow tape as the “poster child” for why the rule was put in as a 15-yard penalty for “a block against an opponent that is initiated from outside that player’s field of vision.”

Burrow certainly never knew what hit him.

It will also be a lot harder to play a 7-overtime game like the one LSU and Texas A&M slugged through into the wee hours of the morning.

“At some point, we’ve got to get the players off the field,” Shaw said. “However, nobody wants a tie.”

So after four overtimes, the game will be reduced to nothing but 2-point plays — one-play possessions — until somebody blinks.

“That was the game that did it, for sure,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said of his 74-72 victory in the epic game with the Tigers.

Finally, LSU fans’ Free Devin White movement might have had some effect.

The linebacker famously sat out the first half of the Alabama game after a suspect targeting call the week before against Mississippi State.

Nobody is admitting it was a bad call.

But it might have been overturned under new replay rules just for that offense.

Perhaps on purpose, Shaw was probably careful not to use the White play as an example — it’s still a sore spot between LSU and the officials.

It might still be called targeting — officials are instructed to have a quick trigger with the rule, to err on the side of throwing the flag.

The difference now will be that replay officials will counter by looking for any reason the flag should not have been thrown.

Other replay calls need clear evidence that the call was wrong — when there’s gray area the call “stands.”

“We’re changing that for targeting,” Shaw said. “For it to stay targeting, you must be able to confirm all aspects of a targeting foul for it to be confirmed.”

It’s a start.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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