Carollo assesses targeting penalty after nine weeks

The early returns are in, and the new penalty for targeting is having an impact. According to Big Ten officials coordinator Bill Carollo, there have been 54 targeting calls in 534 FBS games in 2013. Fifteen were subsequently overturned upon replay review, putting the number of disqualifications through 534 games and nine weeks of action at 39.

Last year in the Big Ten, targeting was flagged six times, according to Carollo. This year, it has been flagged twice: Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste at Purdue on Oct. 12 and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby vs. Iowa on Oct. 19.

Watch Jean-Baptiste’s hit (Roby’s is above):

“It’s all about player safety,” says Carollo. “That’s our No. 1 priority. It has to be. We make five or six mistakes a game. We hope it doesn’t cost a team a game. We do our best. I know it won’t be perfect. But we focus on big things like player safety.”

Carollo outlined in detail the new penalty for targeting this summer to his officials during a meeting in Chicago.

A targeting rule was on the books prior to 2013; the penalty was just a 15-yard infraction. But beginning this fall, the penalty was augmented to include ejection for the player in addition to the 15-yard infraction. If the ejection happened in the first half of a game, the player sat out the remainder of the game. If the ejection happened in the second half of a game, the player sat out the rest of the game and the first half of the next game. All targeting calls are reviewed in the replay booth. The punitive consequence is what makes the penalty so impactful. Players wanna play.

“We want to make (the rule) be expensive and immediately to have an impact,” said Carollo. “Credit goes to the players. They have lowered the target, kept their head up. They see what they hit, they try to wrap up. I have seen players adjust. We are more concerned about the player delivering the hit than then player getting hit.

“The rules are the same for the offense and defense, though it’s the defense that typically gets called for targeting.”

Carollo says the Big Ten coaches have been good about embracing the rule. But Ohio State’s Urban Meyer recently spoke out about his disagreement with the targeting call that got Roby booted. Carollo had no issues with Meyer’s comments.

“He was professional and gave his viewpoint on it,” said Carollo.

Carollo isn’t surprised the targeting penalties have gone down. He felt that could be the case if there was proper education disseminated to the coaches and players. And that education began in earnest last spring.

But some would like to see the targeting penalty altered. Specifically: Give it a tiered approach. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald has talked about such a strategy. Instead of immediate ejection for targeting, a player would be given a “yellow” card, similar to soccer, as a warning. If the same player was flagged for targeting again, he would be given a “red” card and ejected. Carollo says many penalty options were considered before setting on the current penalty that is similar to fighting.

“(His idea) It’s an interesting concept,” said Carollo. “More of a stepped approach. I am open to suggestions and more figure to come.”

The penalty for targeting will be reviewed. Could it be altered? Certainly, said Carollo. There will be discussions publicly and privately, he notes, but don’t expect any “midstream” changes. One possible tweak suggested by some: If a player’s ejection is overruled by a replay official, no 15-yard penalty would be enacted. Today, the 15-yard penalty remains if an ejection is overruled.

No changes ever will include trying to evaluate a violating player’s “intent.” Carollo notes time and again that intent doesn’t matter. The officials are just looking for players who launch themselves and hit with the crown of their helmet about the shoulders of a defenseless player. Whether the hitter had malice or not isn’t up for debate.

Carollo says he had some initial fears that the targeting penalty would be “over officiated. But, that hasn’t been the case. Again, he credits the players and coaches for adapting. No doubt, the punitive penalty gets the attention of players and coaches.

“We are pleased with where we are,” said Carollo, who notes that now some issues with low hits are evolving. “But we have work to do. I have regular dialogue with Commissioner Delany about this. And he talks with A.D.s and commissioners across the nation. This is an important rule.

“Work also is being done on a grass-roots level with USA Football to teach kids how to tackle properly at the youth level. We have to make the game safer.  Our motto is: We will enforce player safety aggressively.”

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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delmar1950 on 10/30/2013 @ 11:26am EST Said:

Coach Fitzgerald idea would be a better solution to the targeting problem, but you can believe that because they didn’t come up with the idea it will not be used and you can count on that. Also if they review the play and it’s not targeting then why should a team be penalize because the officials made a bad call, wheres the fairness in that. Look I’m all in for safety in college football but ejecting a player is a little steep, but if their is a player who continue to get flag for this then his style of play should be looked into….GO BUCKS

Buck on 10/30/2013 @ 12:38pm EST Said:

The ejection of Roby was not in line with what the rule states. Roby lead with his shoulder into the shoulder of a receiver that was significantly bigger than him. I understand the judgement call on the field and don’t fault the ref, but the replay guys totally gaffed it by not overturning.

    delmar1950 on 10/30/2013 @ 2:13pm EST Said:

    I totally agree with you on the Roby call and the replay guys said that it was to close to change the call. I could have done without that reasoning, I mean aren’t they not there to get the call right, that’s a cop out and I hope that the Bucks don’t get those guys again. GO BUCKS