Bill Carollo: 'We have to change behavior'

Big Ten officials coordinator Bill Carollo didn’t hesitate when I asked him what the point of emphasis was going to be for officials this fall: blows targeted above the shoulders at defenseless players.

“If it happens,” Carollo said, “the player will be automatically ejected from the game.”

And if officials have any doubt if a hit violated the guidelines, they have been told: “When it doubt, throw him out.”

Does that seem harsh? Last year, such an infraction resulted in a 15-yard penalty. But, these are new, evolving times. And player safety is the No. 1 goal of the Big Ten—and everyone involved with college football.

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That was an overriding sentiment at a recent officials football summit held in the InterContinental Hotel in Rosemont, Ill., near O’Hare Airport. Around 200 officials from the Big Ten, Mid-American Conference and Missouri Valley Conference attended a three-day event that was led by Carollo, one of the most respected and revered officiating figures in the nation.

“This is a chance for all of us to get better at what we do,” said Carollo. “We always want to be on top of our game and take great pride in what we do.”

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Myriad topics were discussed during the clinic, including a new interpretation of blocking below the waist and some game-clock modifications. You can read about the new rules here.

But none of the new rules will have the impact—or create the buzz–of the new on-the-spot suspension penalty for targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders.

“I think it’s one of the biggest rule changes we have seen in a number of years,” said one official in attendance. “But I think it’s a good rule. We need to protect the players.”

Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

Carollo is even more to the point of how important it is to stress player safety.

“We have to change behavior,” he said. “Otherwise, we won’t have a game.”

The new penalty for targeting—along with the other new regulations—was approved back in the spring, when most of us were immersed in hoops. But back in March, the Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the rule that requires players who target and hit a defenseless player above the shoulders to be ejected.

“We went out to spring practices and educated the players and coaches on the new rules,” said an official I spoke to. “And they seemed to pick up on it quickly. We can still just call a 15-yard penalty. But if there is any doubt about a player targeting a defenseless player, we will throw the flag and make an ejection.”

Again: When in doubt, throw him out.

The new penalty for targeting will mirror the penalty for fighting. If the targeting foul occurs in the first half of a game, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game. If the foul occurs in the second half or overtime of a game, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game and the first half of the next contest.

In an effort to address concerns when one of these plays is erroneously called on the field, the ejection is reviewable through video replay. The replay official must have conclusive evidence that a player should not be ejected to overturn the call on the field. But, as most officials said at this event, the likelihood of a booth reversal is slim.

A postgame conference review remains part of the rule, and conferences retain their ability to add to a sanction. The committee will also allow a postgame review to reduce a suspension if warranted. But the conference office doesn’t want to be involved in this process, if possible. In fact, the Big Ten office has given very direct orders to the Big Ten officials to adjudicate all matters on Saturdays. The league office doesn’t want to have to deal with these matters on Mondays.

[ RELATED: Ex-Illini out to stop head trauma ]

Carollo knows the new targeting penalty rule likely will result in a lot of scrutiny from the media and cries from fans. But he doesn’t care. He knows he and his officials have the support of commissioners.

It will be interesting to see how often players are ejected—especially early in the season. Will there be a spat of suspensions early? Then, will adjustments be made by players and coaches?

Many football purists already think the sport is getting soft, as rules continue to be adopted that seemingly take away the ferocity and big hits that help make football, well, football. You’ve surely heard friends complain about it. But, it doesn’t matter. The ship has sailed: player safety now takes precedence over everything.

Hard hits still can be delivered. They just must be delivered safely. Players can’t strike other players with the crown of their helmet anywhere on their body. But a player can deliver a devastating blow with his shoulder to another player’s torso and legs.

Still, expect grumblings.

“If a receiver is on the sideline and is fighting for that extra inch or so to get a first down and gets blasted by a defender, I have a hard time with a flag being thrown for that,” said 1991 Heisman winner and Michigan icon Desmond Howard, who spoke at the clinic. “If the receiver didn’t want to get hit, he could step out of bounds. I’m an old-school guy. I just don’t like the rule. And I’m an offensive guy.

“But, I get it. Safety matters.”

It seems every day, there is some media account about the potential long-term effects of playing football. That has everyone involved with the sport ultra-sensitive about trying to protect the future of the sport by making it safer today. Hence, rules emphasizing player safety are in vogue.

“We always are going to error on the side of player safety,” said Carollo.

Last season, kickoffs were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line. Why? Because it was hoped that more kickoffs would result in touchbacks, thus eliminating the potentially violent collisions that take place of kickoff returns. Other changes enacted last year aimed at player safety included if a player lost his helmet on a play, he had to sit out the next play. And players also were prohibited from leaping over blockers in an attempt to block a punt.

But none of those had the impact or drew the attention of this new penalty for targeting.

“This is America’s No. 1 sport because it’s a collision sport,” said Howard. “I think there is such a groundswell for player safety. I don’t think fans will go against it.”

Fans will have no other choice. This is a new age in football. Safety rules. Get used to it.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Show Comments (16 Comments)
16 Post Your Comment
Jeff on 7/15/2013 @ 1:01pm EDT Said:

How long til the big ten makes the conversion to flag football?

Josh Spencer on 7/15/2013 @ 8:25pm EDT Said:

This could be the beginning of the end of the greatest sport. I understand player safety, I do, however, the speed of the game is too quick to make accurate calls. Some ball carriers lower their head as they go into contact (a natural move when you’re about to get tackled hard) and the defensive player could be going in for a correct tackle, not targeting the head, but there will still be contact to the head because the ball carrier puts his head down, which will end up in a lot of penalties and a potential ejections. Why? Because it happens to fast to make accurate calls. Begin to expect a flag every time you here a collision, a nice pop. You could now get a flag and ejected for tackling. It’s very sad, but unfortunately the only way to stop the people whom make these decisions that continue to ruin this great sport is to quit watching football. This would be very hard to do, but over time more and more people will slowly quit watching because they continue to take more and more of the hitting away, which is why they watch. Than, when attendance and ratings begin to drop, the rules against playing football will begin to stop.

Richard Barnes on 7/15/2013 @ 9:50pm EDT Said:

This may affect recruiting. If a guy is a DB he may think that maybe he will be tossed 1 or 2 times and hurt his numbers during the season. I think we need a standard NCAA rule that stipulates all blocking and tackling must be below the shoulder pads or it’s a 20 yard penalty and the man is given a yellow card. One more questionable hit and he’s out. Just tossing a guy could mean a man who would get a 1st round draft spot may drop to 2nd round and with that in mind the 5 star DB’s may want to look elsewhere. I’d like to toss the officials who decided to do this in JUST our league.

Daniel Revas (@DanielRevas) on 7/15/2013 @ 10:29pm EDT Said:

Maybe B1G officials should be issues pink skirts. All I see is an easy way for a corrupt Official to affect the outcome of a big game.

Mark Yost on 7/15/2013 @ 11:41pm EDT Said:

A common mistake made by officials in flagging some hits as flagrant is that the head of the person being often snaps forward making it look as though the head was contacted first. The speed of the game makes this a difficult call to make. I think they should err toward the doubt side as the slow motion evidence usually shows no intent to hit the head.

Sean on 7/16/2013 @ 6:10am EDT Said:

not sure why they put up a video of a legal block into the chest of the defender

Sean on 7/16/2013 @ 6:13am EDT Said:

perhaps more under the armpit than in the chest but most definitely not a blow to the head and clearly not targeting the head either in the video

Ryan on 7/16/2013 @ 9:07am EDT Said:

I don’t have a problem with protecting “defenseless” players. Just give me a good definition of defenseless. When I played, defenseless was a reciever going across the middle stretched out to get the ball. I agree. A D-back who is seconds away from tackling your teammate and preventing a touchdown (as in the video above)? NO WAY!!! Just because someone isn’t looking doesn’t make them defenseless. Keep your head on a swivel or you will get lit up, that’s football. I’d like to hear their breakdown on the Kenny Bell hit. He didn’t leave his feet and he hit him between the numbers. LEGAL HIT! Protect the players but don’t change the basics of the game in doing so.

papatater on 7/16/2013 @ 9:30am EDT Said:

Even though this is a harsh penalty, I believe it is warranted. Kids have been taught since pee-wee football to knock the guy out, instead of actually tackling the carrier. I see it too many times how guys are just lowering their shoulders to make a dramatic hit, instead of using proper technique & tackling the ballcarrier. Watch rugby or Australian rules football sometime. They tackle their opponents, & don’t just try to blast their heads off.

wilford brimley on 7/16/2013 @ 9:50am EDT Said:

Clarification on Bill’s statement of ‘if we don’t change behavior or we won’t have a game’ is necessary. Something, maybe its common sense, tells me that is not a true statement. Attempts to inspire fear as a rational don’t fly. If you want fans on your side with these rule changes, provide data to backup your thoughts. Data dispels emotions. When changing the tradition rich game of college football people are bound going to need just that.

Marcus on 7/16/2013 @ 12:40pm EDT Said:

Terrible rule. This will change the outcome of many games to be sure. With fast paced & spread offenses, I think we can all agree that offense in today’s game is a bit ahead of defense more so than in the past. Rules like this make me wonder if the NCAA/NFL are actually TRYING to get basketball scores in football games.

Since a player ejected in the first half is out the rest of the game, and a player ejected in the second half is out the rest of the game AND the first half of the next game… it stands to reason that defenses have less incentive to play lights out unless it’s the 2nd or 4th quarter. Bad, bad rule change.

I think we can all agree on player safety but this is really hurting the game. No one wants to see a kid hurt, but everyone involved knows the risks when the pads come on. Hitting & getting hit is part of the game, regardless of how soft we’re getting as a society. I’d have a lot less of a problem with this rule if they didn’t plan on being as aggressive about the calls.

I also can’t help but think about the young recruit and how much less incentive they now have to play on the defensive side of the ball.

TE on 7/17/2013 @ 10:26am EDT Said:

I am glad to see this- those of you against it- have you read the head trauma in football research? Google the head injury study from Purdue, and go from there. The bottom line is we didn’t know the risk of hits to the head because the effects were not immediately visible. Now, business as usual becomes indefensible.The changes are not because anybody is soft or hates football, but because they love the game. Head hitting has to come out of the game.

car56 on 7/17/2013 @ 7:00pm EDT Said:

“When in doubt, throw them out”? Absolutely asinine thinking here. How about getting the call CORRECT in real time and using replay to confirm the call of “targeting” or lack thereof. I’m all for the utmost safety of players but REDICIOUSLY BLOWN calls like the video shows only results in MORE lack of respect of officials by everyone and a general feeling that officials on the field becoming irrelevant. Players are going to get hit hard and to throw them out just because it looks vicious and not confirming targeting on replay will just piss everyone off and make officials even more hated and make collegiate football less fun to watch. By the way there is NO SUCH THING as a defenseless player. HEAD ON A SWIVEL!

Larry on 7/18/2013 @ 7:49pm EDT Said:

RIchard Barnes hit it spot on. This will affect recruiting. Let’s see, worry about getting suspended in the Big 10? or actually playing football in the SEC? hmmmm,,,,,,,

T. Overmier on 10/22/2013 @ 7:46pm EDT Said:

Not yet ready fr flags guys, they have to measure the guys for skirts first!!

T. Overmier on 10/22/2013 @ 7:50pm EDT Said:

Fully agree with Larry about the affect on recruiting.

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