Mailbag: Your questions on new player safety rules

It’s that time of week where I reach into my latest mailbag. And, to no surprise, it’s stuffed with cards and letters about the new penalty for targeting a defenseless player. It’s not all about player safety, though, as there are questions regarding Indiana and Wisconsin. So, let’s get started.

Since the penalty for targeting is here and arguing it does no good, I think the best way to deal with these is the have flags thrown as usual and let league offices review hits prior to the following game to determine if a player is suspended. It’s too much to ask a ref to do so, as players get faster. The league would have time to make an unbiased decision and notify the school that the player can’t play the following game. The player is still punished and a decision doesn’t have to be made on the fly that could potentially control the outcome of the current game. – Josh

Not a bad idea. But the Big Ten office doesn’t want to have to deal with these issues on Mondays. That’s the directive the office has given the officials, who have been told they will be backed 100 percent by the office on their decisions. One idea Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald broached that I like is to give players one warning card per game. If they get a second card in the same game, they are booted. It’s similar to what is done in soccer games.

I understand concern for player safety, but anyone who has played the game understands that this is a hard-hitting contact sport. I feel that the rules that are being implemented are taking away from what players/audiences enjoy about the sport. By continuing down this path of “softening” the game of football, do you see it eventually losing its allure to fans who will turn away from  the game due to lack of interest? – Jim Dahlgren

I think you make a great point. Many fans already think the sport is going soft. And this new penalty for targeting will further soften the game, in the eyes of some. But safety is a top goal. Head of Big Ten officials Bill Carollo says behaviors have to change, or there will be no sport in the future. Still, I wonder if football in the future will be worth watching. A big reason why football is so popular is because of the hard hits. Regardless, the train has left the station. Safety is priority No. 1.

Your article reflects my thoughts exactly.  Don’t you feel it is wrong to handcuff refs like that with automatic ejections? Shouldn’t there just be a 15-yard penalty for being too aggressive–and make the malicious intent hit a “game ejection” discretionary penalty? – Jake

I agree. I think each player should get one mulligan, so to speak, before getting booted. Maybe it’s one mulligan a game, or, say, three for the season before he is booted. To get booted with no warning seems too punitive.

I am disappointed that you did not talk about the controversial aspect of the penalty being caused by the offensive player. – John Keblesh

I guess there could be instances where offensive players could “flop.” But I’m not sure how else an offensive player can draw the penalty. Heck, would a flop even be effective in drawing a penalty? Please enlighten me. How could an offensive player cause the penalty?

Do you think Curt Phillips will be a good quarterback as a sixth-year senior for Wisconsin? – Dave

Phillips is decent, but he just can’t pass well enough. We saw that in the Rose Bowl. I think Joel Stave will end up winning the job. He’s a decent athlete and has a nice arm—and he has the most experience. This offense must improve what was the worst passing attack in the Big Ten last season. But keep an eye on junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy, a big signal-caller who may be the best combination passer/runner of the three.

Indiana is a very hard place to win. Do you believe that another program (a more historically-successful program) may see beyond Kevin Wilson’s record and approach him? I appreciate his football mind and keep wondering what he could do at a different program. – Steve Yuzeman

Yes, Indiana is a difficult place to win. Wilson is making strides, going from one victory his first season to four last year. This year’s team has a shot to breakthrough to the program’s first bowl since the 2007 season. How would Wilson do with a program with more “bells and whistles”? Hard to tell, but I think he has a chance to make the Hoosiers successful. And if he is, you can bet other programs will come calling.

Why would no one give Wisconsin a chance vs. Ohio State this season? – Jack Held

We all probably are writing off the Badgers and crowning Ohio State Leaders Division and Big Ten champs too quickly. Wisconsin has gone to the last three Rose Bowls. And the Badgers have a lot of talent. In fact, Bret Bielema said on many occasions that he looked forward to 2013. Well, he’s gone to Arkansas but all of that talent remains for new coach Gary Andersen. Still, I am worried about the Wisconsin passing game and secondary, which may be what holds back the Badgers.

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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