Big Ten: Bill Carollo

Big Ten athletic directors this week approved the increase of football officiating crews from seven members to eight for all home games beginning with the 2014 season. A center judge, who will line up in the offensive backfield opposite the head referee, will serve as the eighth official.

The Big 12 first implemented eight-person officiating crews last season and will do again in 2014. The SEC will use similar crews this season, and the ACC also approved the increase this week.

The NCAA football rules committee has allowed each FBS conference to increase their crews if they want. The last increase, from six to seven members, took place in 1983.

"We're looking for improved officiating -- that's the No. 1 reason," Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo told ESPN.com. "We feel the eighth man can help that. It helps with quality, more accuracy and there's probably a few plays we're missing because of some blind spots, some gaps on the field with coverage."

The Big Ten has experimented with eight-man crews in spring practices and spring games the past two seasons. Carollo said the popularity of fast-paced spread offenses make it harder for officials to see everything on the field, especially with only one member behind the line of scrimmage.

"We're missing the backside run plays, the backside rollup blocks, chops, holding, et cetera," Carollo said. "There's no one there, so we go right to the point of attack or right in front of the point of attack. With one referee in the backfield, he's several yards off to the side of the quarterback, so he's trying to watch the quarterback and he's got line play. The only guy that can help him there is the umpire, so it gives us better coverage."

Carollo doesn't want or expect to see a spike in penalties from the extra official. Big Ten officials are under the national average in penalties called per game, and while Carollo admits non-calls might be the league's Achilles' heel, he wants to improve the overall accuracy.

The Big 12 had 52 penalties called by eighth officials in 2013, and 50 of them were later graded as the right decisions.

"We'll probably see an uptick slightly from 12 or 13 penalties to maybe one additional one," Carollo said. "But the more important question is, 'Of the additional flags, are they quality fouls, or are you just throwing it to have one flag for the game?' That isn't the case. The accuracy is very, very high."

The Big Ten also will adopt wireless headsets for officials so they can improve communication on items like player substitution and relay rulings to coaches in a more timely manner. The SEC adopted headset communication in 2012.

There are a few previous contracts for seven-man officiating crews, which the Big Ten will honor, but most games will feature the eighth official. Carollo will work closely with league coaches to address their questions about the center judge and how the expanded crews will monitor kickoffs and other unique plays.

"We have a lot of pressure on us to keep improving officiating," Carollo said. "If you really want to get more accurate and not miss a few things, and have a little better control of the game, and if you really do care about player safety, having an extra set of eyes to cover just the basic infractions on the field and to have a presence there, I think it can help."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
4:00
PM ET
A few questions and answers before the weekend. It's good to be back on the road again, as I'm headed today to East Lansing.

Remember, Twitter is the best way to follow us on game days.

To the inbox ...

Nick T. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: With the impending Oregon-Stanford game, if Stanford wins will they jump over Ohio State?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Nick. Brian Bennett and I recently talked about whether Ohio State truly needs style points. He argued that style points don't really matter for the Buckeyes if Alabama, Oregon and Florida State don't start losing. And that's probably right. But style points would mean more, in my view, if Ohio State is competing with one-loss teams for a spot in the national title game. Stanford obviously would be the main threat, as the Cardinal are right behind Ohio State in the BCS standings and have similar computer numbers (the Buckeyes are fourth in computer average; Stanford is fifth). Stanford also likely would rise into the top five in the human polls with a win against Oregon. So yes, it's possible Stanford would jump ahead of Ohio State at some point despite one loss.


OLSM from Cullowhee, N.C., writes: Do you think MSU defensive stars don't get as much national recognition for awards by the fact that there are so many good defensive players on their team vs. other stars on other teams (Shazier and Borland) who don't have as many complementary players around them...I think it would be safe to say a player like Bullough would have more stats if say Denicos Allenn and Shilique Calhoun were not on the team.

Adam Rittenberg: Some fair points here. I agree that Max Bullough is underrated nationally and doesn't get enough recognition for being the nerve center of the Big Ten's best defense and arguably the nation's best unit. Michigan State hasn't had enough marquee games to draw the attention of people around the country. If you watch the Spartans regularly, you appreciate what Bullough does. His stats aren't as gaudy as Borland's or Shazier's, but his value is undeniable. I would say Calhoun has jumped out the most this year because of his big-play ability. That probably has taken some attention away from Bullough, but if Bullough keeps performing well down the stretch, he'll get his due.


Tyler from Minnesota writes: Regarding Venric Mark's medical redshirt, I thought it was only an option for an early season ending injury. If anything, this situation comes across as abusing the medical redshirt because he would be healthy enough to compete in games later this season.

Adam Rittenberg: Tyler, you hit on a key point here, whether he would be able to return later this season. I'm not sure he would, as his latest injury, while undisclosed, is clearly more serious than the hamstring issue that limited him after the Cal game. He hasn't played in more than 30 percent of Northwestern's games, and he has played in games only during the first half of the season. So if this latest injury is severe and Mark couldn't return, I would expect him to receive a redshirt, as long as he wants one. That's the big thing here -- whether Mark wants to move on or return at 100 percent for a fifth season.


Steve from Coronado, Calif., writes: Adam,While we have all said that November was going to be the proving ground for the B1G Legends division, is it possible that UofM and Nebraska's early conference L's have made it less of than the billing? Would you agree that there are some very plausible scenarios where MSU could lose to both UofM and Neb and still got to the B1G championship game? My wager still stands with you and Brian, beers at Coronado Brew Co. on you guys when Sparty shows up in Indy!

Adam Rittenberg: Did we make that wager? My memory seems to be failing me. Do you have proof? I agree that the earlier-than-expected losses by both Michigan and Nebraska -- combined with Northwestern flatlining in October -- have taken some luster off of the Legends division race. Michigan State can take a huge step toward Indianapolis by beating Michigan on Saturday. I agree that a loss to Michigan isn't the end of the world, but if Nebraska gets its season on course again and beats Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State, it would have the tiebreaker against the Spartans with remaining games at Penn State and against Iowa. Michigan State certainly has the easiest crossover schedule between the three, as the Spartans don't face Ohio State, Wisconsin or Penn State. My sense is that Michigan State can afford to lose to either Michigan or Nebraska, but possibly not both.


Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: Hey Adam - targeting rule question for you. Does the targeting rule also apply to offensive players? Noticed during the Ohio State - Penn State game last weekend, that Penn State DE Barnes got blindsided high by Ohio State OL Hall. Could that or should that have been a targeting call?

Adam Rittenberg: Targeting can be called against offensive players, Brian, and Big Ten officiating chief Bill Carollo said this week that officials must be aware that the fouls can go both ways. Marcus Hall didn't appear to launch himself into Deion Barnes, using his hands to make contact. The contact was above Barnes' shoulders, and Barnes didn't see it coming, but I don't think plays like that will draw targeting penalties for the most part.


Kyle from Denton, Texas, writes: As a Husker fan... I'm tired of Taylor Martinez. There seems to always be an excuse as to why we didn't win with him at QB. He always seems to be "hurt" when we lose. Am I the only one that thinks this? And, is Bo digging his grave? If Taylor was hurt why did he continue to play him? If he wasn't healthy in the first place why did he start him? Bo kinda worked himself into a corner here and it seems like their making excuses now.

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, understand your frustration, although you should acknowledge that Martinez played a significant role in Nebraska reaching league title games in 2010 and 2012. It does seem like his injuries linger. He said the ankle injury he suffered midway through the 2010 season continued to bother him in 2011 and impact his throwing mechanics. The toe injury that continues to bother him now occurred in Nebraska's season opener Aug. 31, nearly two months ago. Martinez also had a shoulder injury from the opener, and now a hip pointer from the Minnesota game. He's clearly not the same quarterback when unable to run.

Pelini was frustrated Monday when discussing Martinez's situation, saying, "If he looks me in the eye and says, 'Yes, I'm ready to go,' then I felt at some point we needed to give him the opportunity to get back out there and play." Pelini later added, "I'm not going to sit here and play this game all year long." It's hard to blame Pelini for trusting Martinez when he asked the quarterback how he felt. Then again, no one should be surprised that Martinez, a senior, wanted to play. It's a tough situation, but Pelini is ready to move forward with Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III at quarterback if Martinez doesn't get healthy.


David from Columbus writes: Adam, Let's say that Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State indeed all go undefeated. Assuming rankings stay the same as they are now, then Alabama and Oregon are playing in the Championship and Ohio State is going to the Rose. What are the chances of the Rose Bowl selecting an undefeated FSU instead of the Pac-12 runner-up? Or even another BCS bowl game pairing FSU and OSU together?

Adam Rittenberg: Not happening, David. If the Rose Bowl doesn't get the Big Ten champ and Pac-12 champs but can select at-large teams from those leagues -- remember, teams must be in the top 14 of the final BCS standings to be eligible -- it will do so. I can't see the Rose Bowl passing up the traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup for its 100th game on Jan. 1. Also, we're presuming Florida State wins the ACC, and if so, it automatically will go to the Orange Bowl. As much fun as it would be to see Ohio State and Florida State match up, the only way it happens this year is in the BCS national title game. That will require losses by both Oregon and Alabama.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: There it is Adam: "but I like Indiana coming off of the open week to win on its home field." If bye weeks helping teams is a "fan myth", why mention Indiana is coming off an open week, as if that matters

Adam Rittenberg: I see what you did there, Samuel. I'll admit I'm guilty of throwing in the open week with some statements made in the blog, but the main reason I picked Indiana is the urgency of the Hoosiers' situation. They have five games left, need three to get bowl eligible and must visit both Wisconsin and Ohio State. The three home games -- Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue -- all are must wins, and I think Indiana comes into this one with the right mind-set. The bye week thing isn't a huge factor, although the fact IU came out of its first open week and beat Penn State convincingly is potentially a good sign.
When you think of targeting penalties in the Big Ten this season, two images come to mind: Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ohio State's Bradley Roby walking off the field, dejected and ejected.

Both standout cornerbacks paid the increased price -- ejection from a game -- for hits that officials deemed to be dangerous. Although both disqualifications sparked debate and doubt, neither altered the outcome of the games (Nebraska and Ohio State both won), and the greater message about high hits and player safety came through.

[+] EnlargeBill Carollo
Reid Compton/USA TODAY SportsBig Ten coordinator of officials Bill Carollo believes the tougher targeting penalties are working to make the game safer.
Bill Carollo, the Big Ten's coordinator of football officials, points to a different set of images that underscore the impact of the stricter penalties for targeting. These images show safe, sound tackling techniques that reduce the risk of head injuries for both ball carriers and defenders.

"They've lowered the target," Carollo said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters from ESPN.com and BTN.com. "They've done a better job coming in full speed, trying to make a play and separate the opponent from the ball. They see the numbers, they see what they hit, they try to wrap up. Even from the first week of the season, I've seen players adjusting, trying to get their head to the side, trying to get their head down."

Despite grumbling from those most affected by targeting ejections -- Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell -- the changes are working, according to Carollo. The Big Ten had six targeting fouls in 2012 that would have resulted in ejections, he said, but only two so far this season. The numbers are also down nationally, from one targeting foul in approximately every eight games in 2012 to one in approximately every 10 games this season.

There have been 54 targeting fouls in 534 FBS games so far this season, 15 of which were overturned following replay review. Every targeting penalty is reviewed by a replay official, who can uphold the ejection or overturn it. Carollo said replay is a big reason for the early success.

"Our antennas are up, we're looking for it more, but the actual numbers are down, which I think is a positive result of our efforts in this area," Carollo said.

Carollo is pleased with the results through the first two months but said mistakes have been made, even by replay officials overturning ejections (the Big Ten has had no targeting fouls overturned by replay). There have been borderline plays, and while officials are instructed to throw the flag if in doubt, the "over-officiating" Carollo feared when the new policy was implemented hasn't taken place.

Coaches don't all like the rule, but they understand the reasoning. Carollo credits them for emphasizing the rule with their teams from spring practice onward.

"Sometimes the coaches talk about the intent of the player, [that] he didn't mean to do it," Carollo said. "That isn't part of the rules. Intent doesn't make a whole lot of difference. In this case, it's pretty clear cut: Is he defenseless? Did he use the crown of the helmet? Did he hit in the head or neck area?"

There could be some amendments to the targeting policy, including possibly removing the 15-yard penalties for fouls overturned by replay, which the SEC is advocating. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has proposed using a soccer-style system for enforcing targeting -- a warning (yellow card) followed by an ejection (red card).

Carollo called Fitzgerald's proposal "an interesting concept" but added, "I don't know if a stepped approach will have the effect and get the attention that we're getting today." Carollo is open to changes if they make sense, although none would be implemented until the 2014 season.

"We're trying to change player behavior," Carollo said. "There's no hiding behind our motive. We thought if we immediately penalize these players and throw them out of the game, it will get their attention.

"It's kind of a hard learning curve right now, but we're heading in the right direction."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
4:00
PM ET
My mailbag will come to you just once a week from here on out, right around this time on Fridays. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

Have a great first football weekend! To the inbox ...


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Hi Adam. Just reviewed your chat today. In general, agree with your comments on Minnesota except the lack of depth. Yes they have areas of lack of depth -- LB, CB, WR -- but elsewhere they are deeper than last year. That depth, plus Nelson's additional experience, plus their bowl experience, is why I like the team better. I also think Kill's health is better and that can't hurt.

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Craig. I think we saw in Thursday's opener against UNLV how Nelson's experience last year paid off. He looked very comfortable moving around in the pocket, and his athleticism on designed runs also gives Minnesota a good weapon in the ground game. I'm still a little concerned at whether Minnesota's skill players will make an impact against good Big Ten opponents. The Gophers line struggled to dominate UNLV for much of the game and didn't show the physical play we saw in the bowl game against Texas Tech.

You're right that I overlooked some of the depth in the secondary despite losing corners Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. The Gophers have some playmakers back there. The good news is Minnesota won its opener easily and still has a lot of room for improvement. And we're all pleased that Coach Kill seems to have his health more under control.


John from Au Gress, Mich., writes: As far as Defensive POY is concerned, it was interesting to see what a rival network found when it polled BIG players and coaches. Max Bullough was the runaway choice. Two things work against Max for this award (1) few journalists take enough time to recognize the value of a defensive quarterback like Bullough and (2) with all the "3 and outs" the MSU defense will force, he won't have enough tackles to get his due. Total tackles is an overhyped stat too. My first thought is the overall defense must stink if you get that many opportunities. Borland will probably lead the BIG with around 150 tackles and he would probably like to stay around 100. He seems like a great team guy, and would rather have the defense get off the field.

Adam Rittenberg: John, some good points here, and I couldn't agree more about tackles being an overrated statistic, especially when it comes to linebackers. I would hope the award isn't given based on total tackles, as some standout defenders will be on the field a lot less than others. For me, it's between Borland and Bullough for this award. Both are the nerve centers of their respective defenses. If the Spartan Dawgs once again finish in the top five nationally, I'd have no issue with Bullough getting the hardware. Ultimately, Borland makes more impact plays than Bullough -- or any Big Ten defender, for that matter. Borland is just a freak in that way. Does it mean he's more valuable to his defense than Bullough? It's up for debate. Both are exceptional players, and as I recently wrote, both have a ton of respect around the Big Ten.


Curtis from San Angelo, Texas, writes: You wrote, "Bad calls shouldn't be hidden from fans in the stadium when those at home see them replayed over and over." No, they probably shouldn't. On the other hand, replays of bad calls shouldn't be used like gasoline being poured on a fire, either. Not everyone enjoys going to a sporting event and hearing "fans" yell obscenities (sometimes en masse) at the officials for missing a call. As long as humans are involved, calls will be missed. Hopefully this won't backfire and lead to egging on rude behavior.

Adam Rittenberg: Curtis, I think there's a compromise here, although the replays will be at the discretion of each Big Ten school. I agree that a controversial call shouldn't be replayed 20 times in super slo-mo in the stadium, but fans who pay good money to watch those games have the right to see what everyone else does at home. Big Ten officiating chief Bill Carollo wants his crews to be held accountable. He puts a lot of pressure on them to get it right. Sure, some fans will act like idiots, but the yelling at the officials is going to be there with or without the replays. It's important to enhance the game-day experience at a time when attendance is dropping a bit and the modern-fay fan wants more out of his/her Saturday afternoon.


Lone Wolf McCaw from Siberia, USSR: I don't get it Adam, I don't. I see there are a lot of coaches that won't name who their starters are. Why? I get there are players and positions where you just don't know who is better, or want to see how they perform in a real game. But you can't tell me that, that is the case with all the teams that won't give out a depth chart. Are the coaches writers for a mystery TV show or something, and want to keep us guessing til the end? How does not revealing who your starters are benefit the team in any way, shape or form? I will hang up now and listen to your answer.

Adam Rittenberg: Lone Wolf, as a media member in the business of information, you're preaching to the choir, brother. Some coaches think concealing their starting quarterback provides an advantage because opponents have to prepare for more than one player. I'm not sure I buy that. Teams have so much time to prepare for the opener that they almost overprepare. I think the secrecy has more to do with taking pressure off of the starter, and even the player or players who lose the competition. When you have a true freshman starter, as Penn State likely will with Christian Hackenberg, you can delay the heavy scrutiny until after he plays his first game. But I'm not a fan of keeping this under wraps.


Steve from Washington, D.C., writes: Count me among the many Northwestern fans who are incredibly psyched for this season. I'm stoked to see the speed and talent that we have lined up on the defensive side of the ball. What keeps me up at night, though, is that we play in a conference known for power football, big linemen pushing up the middle with a big RB running behind them. Do you think NU will struggle to stop an up-the-gut power run game? Which matchups should I be particularly worried about in this regard?

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I think this is a fair concern, although Northwestern's run defense improved significantly in 2012, going from 84th in 2011 to 21st last year (127.6 ypg). The big issue is the loss of defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt, hardly a household name around the Big Ten but a huge part of Northwestern's success against the run. The Wildcats lack depth at defensive tackle and need Sean McEvilly to stay healthy and others (Will Hampton, C.J. Robbins) to step up. Standout safety Ibraheim Campbell also plays a huge role in stopping the run. Campbell might be Northwestern's most valuable player, especially against teams like Wisconsin that run the power.


Adam from DC writes: Ohio State lost seven starters from last year's squad, including all four defensive linemen and two of their three linebackers. OSU also won some close games last year and didn't exactly lead the conference in defense.You picked the OSU Defense for your fantasy team. Why so much faith in the 2013 OSU defense?

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, it has more to do with how fantasy points are awarded for defense, at least in the ESPN College Football Challenge, which Brian and I use. Ohio State's defense actually recorded the most fantasy points (149) in the Big Ten last year, while Michigan State's defense, undoubtedly the best in the league, finished sixth in fantasy points (105). Defenses are awarded points for team wins, of which Ohio State will have plenty, and can pile up points for scoring touchdowns and forcing turnovers. Ohio State might not be the most stifling Big Ten defense, but I expect the Buckeyes to make a bunch of plays, even with all of their youth. The Buckeyes feature several big-play defenders like linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby.


Jeff from San Diego writes: I had a slew of Hawkeye questions for you, but really you can answer them all by responding to this one question; will Kirk Ferentz still be Iowa's coach in three years?

Adam Rittenberg: In three years? Hmm, that's a very tough one. I'm inclined to say yes, but I'm not confident in my answer. That would put Ferentz in his 17th season at Iowa. Obviously, he has a hefty contract that goes for much longer, and maybe he'd like to keep coaching the Hawkeyes for another eight years. Still, it's a long time, and if the momentum doesn't turn soon, Iowa will face a tough decision with its highly paid coach. I don't think Ferentz is in danger this season, but he has to show some positive signs soon. The move to the West division and the soft schedules the next few years should help him.


Ben from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam, where would you have put Jake Ryan in your preseason rankings had he been healthy? I'm thinking between Roby and Dennard, but I'd appreciate your unbiased opinion.

Joe from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Really? No Carlos Hyde in the top 25? Does his three-game suspension (no charges by the way) really merit that much of a drop? Where would he have ranked had he not been suspended? I figured he would have be top 10/ top 15 for sure.

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, I think we would have had Ryan around No. 11 or No. 12, behind both Roby and Dennard, who have a little more potential to be nationally elite than Ryan does. I'm a big fan of Ryan's playmaking ability, though, and can't wait to see him back on the field for the Maize and Blue. Joe, we were in a bit of a bind with Hyde because when we kicked off the rundown, his status for the season was very much in doubt and there had been some chatter that he wouldn't play this fall. We had to make our full list on the assumption that he wouldn't play. If the Hyde situation hadn't happened, you'd probably see him right around the No. 15 spot.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
5:00
PM ET
Time to check the mail again. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Is it just a coincidence that Northwestern, Stanford, and Vanderbilt are on the upswing as far as football programs?

Adam Rittenberg: There are definitely some favorable circumstances in place for each program, like having the right head coaches in place. But all three institutions have made greater investments in their football programs in recent years, too. There's a realization that academically focused private schools can also succeed on the gridiron, and that the pool of recruits who can make the grade at these schools is large enough to achieve that success. Also, all three schools either have made or will make significant facilities upgrades.

Stanford has put its program among the nation's elite thanks to Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, while Northwestern is enjoying the most consistent period of success in its history under Pat Fitzgerald. Although I'm not as sold on James Franklin and Vanderbilt as some of my media colleagues, I see the obvious strides being made in recruiting. The bottom line: it's not a coincidence that all three programs are on the rise, although the circumstances each enjoys play big roles.

Divine Wind from Tokyo writes: In a scenario where the top three teams at the end of the year are Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama, the first two teams are 13-0 and the Tide is 12-1. Is there any realistic scenario you see where an OSU team with a 25-game winning streak doesn't make it to the championship game? And if not, who would be their opponent?

Adam Rittenberg: It all depends on the strength of the SEC and Pac-12 vs. the Big Ten and how that translates to the BCS computer rankings, but I wouldn't rule out any scenario in the final year of the BCS system. Ohio State will open the season ranked higher than Oregon in the human polls, and while it's possible an undefeated Oregon leapfrogs and undefeated Ohio State based on the Pac-12's strength, I can't imagine much would separate the teams in the voting. It'll come down to the computers and whether the SEC's strength (real or perceived) would vault Alabama past an undefeated Oregon or Ohio State squad. As many know, the Buckeyes' schedule could work against them as they don't play any top teams in non-league play and miss Nebraska and Michigan State in the Legends division. The Buckeyes need to beat teams like Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan, and then have those teams all go onto strong seasons. Ohio State could be hurt by Vanderbilt backing out of the season opener in Columbus. Beating an SEC team would help the Buckeyes' cause. Ultimately, I doubt an undefeated Ohio State team gets left out of the title game. As to who would be Ohio State's opponent in the Rose Bowl, I'd go with Stanford or UCLA.

Fred from Annapolis, Md., writes: Hi Adam, a Husker expatriate here whose memory goes back to the late-Devaney era. I am writing about Bo Pelini being on the hot seat, and for me, that is certainly his status. I appreciate that he wins wins most of his games and has brought stability to the program. But the fact that I think his defenders miss is that too many losses are not even competitive, dare I say that they are of a Callahan-ian level. I think he has put together a great young coaching staff, and I would hate to lose any of them, but maybe Bo should take off the head phones (ala Brady Hoke) and let them coach.

Adam Rittenberg: Your first point is fair, Fred, and I agree that blowout losses, particularly in big games, cause more damage than falling on a last-minute field goal or touchdown. Pelini's Husker teams have fallen flat when the lights are brightest, most notably in last year's Big Ten championship game against a 7-5 Wisconsin team playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude. It might be a while before Nebraska has an easier path to the Rose Bowl than it did last season. I'm not sure about your second point. If anything, Pelini has been criticized for hiring so many young coaches and giving them a lot of responsibility. Pelini doesn't seem to be impacting Tim Beck's ability to coordinate one of the nation's top offenses. I agree that good coaches know when and how to keep their distance, but I think Pelini does that, and his involvement on defense could be really beneficial for Big Red.

Jason from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, football is upon us! I'm sure you're looking forward to it as well. On the targeting rule: "The ref & replay officials must agree." What is the process for this? Ref calls it and then the replay official looks for "incontrovertible video evidence" to disagree or isn't bound by that and uses his opinion on intent? This may not seem different to some but it is vastly different to me. Video evidence to overturn a subjective call would just result in it not being overturned often.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Jason. Every targeting penalty that results in an ejection must first be called on the field. The replay official then will review the foul and determine if it meets the standards for an ejection. The replay official will need to see clear evidence that the call should be overturned or downgraded to a 15-yard penalty with no ejection. Here's how Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo explained it to me in March: "We're asking replay to get a little bit involved more in the judgment call. They do [currently] have some judgment, a few rules where they can create penalties, but the replay person in the booth is not the eighth official. The game is being officiated by the seven men or women on the field. Now he'll buzz down once it’s targeting, and he'll confirm that hit. ... The targeting calls are going to stand unless there's indisputable video evidence that shows it's nowhere near above the shoulders." So the bigger responsibility rests with the on-field officials. We'll see how often targeting ejections get overturned or downgraded, but given the seriousness of the foul, I hope replay officials wouldn't hesitate to step in when a foul isn't blatant targeting above the shoulders.

Ty from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, your comment regarding Pelini running a cleaner program than Osborne rubbed me the wrong way. Pelini has run a very clean program, no doubt, but any criticism of Osborne is really unfair. The man was head coach for 25 seasons, and all any non-Nebraska fan wants to bring up is two players (Christian Peter and Lawrence Phillips) from his best team in 1995. The thing many people do not realize is that any second chances TO gave to his players were due to him truly caring about and believing in his players, nothing at all to do with winning. Do you really think Nebraska needed Lawrence Phillips to beat Florida in the 96 Fiesta Bowl?? Not to mention, the man wrote a book called "More Than Winning"!!!. He cared only about what may happen to these guys if they didn't have a chance in football. He didn't want to give up on them which I believe is very admirable. The easy thing to do is to kick a guy off the team. He knew he would be criticized heavily, but he went with his heart. Obviously, with Lawrence Phillips, hindsight is 20/20 and TO wouldn't have kept him around knowing his future. But at the time, he was doing what he believed to be the right thing and I respect him even more for it.

Adam Rittenberg: Ty, you bring up some good points here, and my intent with that response wasn't to disparage Osborne and the way he ran the Nebraska program. But let's face it, Bo Pelini hasn't had a Lawrence Phillips situation or a Christian Peter situation at Nebraska. The most high-profile player to find trouble during Pelini's tenure -- former cornerback Alfonzo Dennard -- did so after his Husker playing days had ended. My point is that Pelini doesn't get as much credit for keeping his team on track both academically and from a conduct standpoint. Sure, Osborne coached Nebraska longer, so you would expect more conduct issues over time. But one coach had a few high-profile incidents and the other has not. I would give the edge to Pelini in terms of conduct, and he clearly takes a no-nonsense approach toward discipline. No one is saying Osborne isn't a great man or a great coach. He undoubtedly won more at the highest level than Pelini. But I think when you look at the total picture -- won-loss, academic progress, off-field conduct -- Pelini has done pretty well in Lincoln.

John from Atlantic Beach, Fla., writes: Double Standard? Ohio State receives a year probation, bowl ban, and lost games for six players selling gold pants trinkets they owned and the nation didn't think it was enough. Now Johnny F. accused of violating rule #1 of selling autographs for profit and the nation thinks we should change the rule.

Adam Rittenberg: John, while I understand your frustration, I'm not sure this is a double standard. The outrage about Ohio State stemmed more from the fact that head coach Jim Tressel knowingly played ineligible players and didn't speak up even after the violations initially surfaced, leading to the "Tat-5," thanks in large part to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, being allowed to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, a Buckeyes victory later vacated by sanctions. I think there were many back then, just like there are now, who think players should be allowed to sell their merchandise/autographs. Tressel really seemed to be the lightning rod with Ohio State. Unless Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin knew that Manziel had committed the alleged violations and did nothing, this case will be more about Manziel, his celebrity, his off-field issues and whether he should have the right to profit off of his fame. Ultimately, the rules haven't changed and that's what it will come down to for Manziel, just like it did for Terrelle Pryor and the other Ohio State players.

Mitch from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, I'm a current MSU senior and I love my football program. But there is one thing that drives me absolutely off the wall about it. Friday night games. If you've noticed, MSU has kicked off the past 2 seasons with a Friday night home game, and they're doing it again this year. I'm a science major, which means that I have Friday classes. This upcoming semester, I have Calculus 3 at 3 PM. Tailgating starts at 1 PM for night games. That means that walking to and from class through MSU's huge campus will entail having to weave through drunken tailgaters. But this isn't nearly as bad as it is for those students who commute. Parking lots around campus are closed down for tailgating, meaning that commuting students need to use lots that are a 30+ minute walk from their classes. I know that many college students don't have Friday classes, but this is getting out of hand for those of us who do. I feel like this is the complete opposite of what the NCAA wants- to put the emphasis on education and not on athletics. Will ADs realize this and put a stop on Friday/Thursday night games, or is the money too big to think about the students?

Adam Rittenberg: Mitch, my man, you're a senior and you're taking calculus on Friday afternoons? You clearly missed the seminar on senior scheduling. Friday at 3 is beer o'clock to most folks. All kidding aside, I understand your frustration, and the hassle the season opener will create for you, your classmates and all the commuter students on Aug. 30. The reason you're seeing more Thursday/Friday night games is the branding opportunity it creates for teams. Michigan State has the Big Ten stage by itself on the Friday night, rather than being in a crowd of games at noon on Saturday. Last year's opener against Boise State was more of a national showcase and would have received attention on Saturday, but more people will pay attention to Michigan State-Western Michigan on Friday night than Saturday afternoon. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, one of the more creative ADs when it comes to scheduling, saw an opportunity when many Michigan high schools moved their Labor Day weekend games to Thursday night rather than Friday night. Many fans start the holiday weekend early and can attend a Friday night game, especially when it doesn't conflict with high school contests. Hollis wrote in his blog in 2011: "We realize that some challenges are created due to work schedules and we respect the campus academic mission of the day. At the same time, the timing of this game brings a positive impact to our team, fans and state." I also see the value in these games. They're fun for many MSU students and fans. But I understand that it creates a hassle for you and others.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. Be sure to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

PCINBVUE from Omaha writes: Hey Adam, not so much a B1G question, but it has to do with the new and controversial "targeting" rule. I do appreciate the reasoning behind it, but I question its effectiveness when called, especially when they say the "Clowney Hit" would be deemed an ejectionable offense. Is it possible that, after a season of potential disagreement and subjectivity, the rule could be nullified?

Adam Rittenberg: I think there has been some confusion about the Clowney hit against Michigan's Vincent Smith, mainly because of comments made by ACC coordinator of football officials Doug Rhoads. I spoke with Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo this week, and he said Clowney's hit was legal and didn't merit a penalty, much less a targeting ejection. Carollo said national officials coordinator Rogers Redding is in agreement. Don't be surprised if Rhoads backs off of his comments. The Clowney hit on Smith isn't what the officials are trying to eliminate from the game. It looked a lot worse than it was from a safety standpoint, which is the impetus for the penalty and punishment.



Dan from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Hey, thought I'd write in from over at the Big 12 blog today. Jim Delany made the statement, "We'll stand behind you, so when you're ready to get serious, or when you have the time, we'll support your college education degree for your lifetime." He isn't implying that it is O.K. for "student athletes" to not be "serious" about their education while they're in school as long as they're focusing on football, is he? That'd clearly go against his points about academic focus.

Adam Rittenberg: No, that's not what he was implying. His point is that colleges should support student-athletes throughout their degree process even if it's interrupted along the way. Under Delany's plan, if an athlete turns pro or drops out of school for various reasons, he or she would have the opportunity to return and finish the degree on scholarship. There are a lot of reasons why student-athletes struggle academically, but his point is that when colleges bring them on board to play sports, they should support their educational pursuits to the end, no matter how long it takes.



Brett from Williston Park, N.Y., writes: Purdue hired a new head coach (Darrell Hazell). How will he turn around the program and what do you expect of the Boilermakers who could have just as easily been 8-4 rather then 6-6 last year? They lost to Notre Dame on a time-expiring kick and to Ohio State in OT. Can they make some noise in the BIGTEN this year even with their strength of schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Are you sure this isn't Danny Hope writing in? Kidding, kidding. Yes, Purdue was a few plays away from beating the only two FBS teams to go through the regular season undefeated. Weird season for Hope's crew. I have high expectations for Hazell's tenure at Purdue, although the job certainly brings some challenges. He has some dynamic young assistants on his staff who should boost recruiting. This year could be tough, however, as Purdue has arguably the Big Ten's most challenging schedule. The Boilers play two BCS bowl teams (Notre Dame and Northern Illinois) plus 10-win Cincinnati in non-league play, and must take on Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State in the Leaders Division, plus Nebraska and Michigan State in crossover games. It could be a rough first season for Hazell as the depth simply isn't there, but things should get better beginning in 2014.



Matt from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: Before the season starts there is always a lot of teams that are hyped up to be better than they really are. To me, this is the 2nd year in a row that Michigan State is not going to be as good as advertised. Yes they lost 5 games by less than 4 points last year. But they also won 4 games by less than 4 points so it evens out. With 7-6 record last year with less talent on the roster this year (mainly because Bell was a beast) how can people say that MSU will be a contender?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, you bring up a fair point about all of those close games evening out for Michigan State in the standings. The Spartans have had some seasons where they win all the close ones and others where they seem to split them or lose more. The case for Michigan State to contend in 2013 is based around a defense that has been nationally elite in each of the past two seasons and should be once again this fall. The defense should keep MSU in every game. The offense certainly loses a big piece in Le'Veon Bell, but it wasn't that productive with him and can't be much worse. Even marginal improvement by the offense could lead to 3-4 more wins for Mark Dantonio's crew. There certainly are some challenges on that side of the ball, but last year's unit set the bar very low, even with Bell.



Matt from Phoenix writes: Adam, Jim Delany's comments regarding change and the "at-risk" student-athlete sound an awful lot like the partial qualifiers that Nebraska utilized back in the old Big 8 days. Is my assumption correct? Most Husker fans refer to a change in partial qualifier policy as one of their initial grievances against the new Big Texas...I mean Big XII conference. Could you explain the "at-risk" student scenario? And are Delaney's comments in reference to the Big Ten? The NCAA? Or the rumored power conference alliance?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I was thinking the same thing about partial qualifiers when Delany outlined his reform plan. His plan is to give at-risk student-athletes a year to acclimate academically without losing a year of eligibility. So these students would take an academic redshirt of sorts and still have four more years left to play their sport. My understanding is all of his proposals would apply at the national level, probably for the so-called "Division 4" group of major revenue-generating institutions.



Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, What is the point of rotating between a bowl in Dallas and a bowl in Ft. Worth? The Cotton Bowl is historic and TCU's stadium is brand new. They are only a few miles apart. Why not pick one and stick with it?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Brian, as the other Big Ten bowl rotation -- Gator and Music City -- takes place in two different states and different markets (Jacksonville and Nashville). I haven't seen the opponent conferences for the Heart of Dallas Bowl and Armed Forces Bowl, so that could have something to do with the need for a rotation. We know the Big Ten wants flexibility with this process, which any rotation provides. The Big Ten needed to keep a Texas presence in the postseason, and the Texas Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Sun Bowl didn't seem like realistic possibilities this time around.



Eli from New York writes: I love beating on dead horses, as you've probably noticed from my emails. Here's a nugget I saw on CornNation, one of the Nebraska blogs: "The B1G messed this one up---they had a litany of excuses, but the Black Friday game should have been Nebraska vs. PSU. And purely for TV.---B1G could own that weekend with something like Nebraska-PSU on Friday and Michigan-OSU on Saturday.---Frankly, the difficult time to travel to a game thing always sounded weird to me. I don?t recall attendance problems for any of the previous games, no matter the opponent or the venue. I don't really remember away-team attendance being a critical factor either, except maybe the Colorado games in the waning years. Most of the possible opponents for that game would be similar in drawing mostly from the surrounding area. Other than maybe Wisconsin, none of them are really dependent on student turnout to fill up the stadium." ~--~ Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Eli, Corn Nation brings up a good point about almost any of these games hinging on home fans, most of whom live in the area, showing up and filling seats. I wonder how Penn State fans would feel about a Black Friday game every year. We know Nebraska fans love it, but not every fan base feels the same way about attending a game the day after the holiday. Penn State fans, what say you? I think if Nebraska-Iowa continues to be a dud game, the Big Ten will reevaluate having it as a Black Friday showcase or even on the final regular-season weekend entirely. Big Ten scheduling czar Mark Rudner this week mentioned Nebraska-Wisconsin as a possibility for that weekend, which Nebraska fans likely would welcome. The one drawback with Nebraska-Penn State is it's a cross-division game. Permanent crossovers were a big problem with the initial schedule setup, and the fact the future setup contains only one (Purdue-Indiana) is a good thing in my view.
CHICAGO -- After fielding questions about the NCAA's new targeting policy for two hours, Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo nearly escaped the interview area Thursday morning when a former Ohio State safety tracked him down.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini shook Carollo's hand and joked that he, too, was tired of talking about targeting. Pelini remains a bit peeved about the targeting penalty called on Huskers receiver Kenny Bell in last year's Big Ten championship game.

[+] EnlargeBill Carollo
Reid Compton/USA TODAY SportsBig Ten coordinator of officials Bill Carollo on the NCAA's targeting policy: "It's a severe penalty, but I don't think it's too harsh."
All this targeting talk isn't a bad thing. It's a topic that merits attention from now until the start of the 2013 season, mainly because of the new consequences when a defenseless player is targeted above the shoulders.

Starting this season, players guilty of the foul will be ejected from games. On-field officials and replay officials must both agree before a player is disqualified.

"They might want to be on 'SportsCenter' for a big hit, but you're not going to be on 'SportsCenter' when you're sitting in the locker room," Carollo told ESPN.com. "As long as that consistent message gets to the players through the coaches, I don't think the game is going to change a whole lot."

The ejection penalty, spurred by the increasing focus on head injuries in football, is a game-changer of sorts. While the targeting rule itself doesn't change entering the season, it will be a focal point when training camps kick off next month.

It was a major topic of discussion this week at Big Ten media days.

Here's a sampling of comments:

  • Nebraska's Pelini: "I don’t think it’s an easy thing to call. And in my opinion it’s going a little bit overboard right now. And some things I’ve seen on TV and different examples that they’ve shown, you know, like even as a coach watching it on TV, I haven’t quite agreed with some of the things they’ve talked about. But I understand where it’s coming from. It’s about the safety of the players, and we're all for that. We just have to make sure that we’re not messing with the integrity of the game or the sport and how it’s supposed to be played."
  • Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman: "Me being [6-foot-6] and going full speed at a running back who's like 5-7, that's hard. And you have to understand that. I'm not trying to go head-to-head with somebody. But I feel like I have to fix my game a little bit. It's a new rule for our safety, so I can't hate on it. But it's kind of difficult when you're 6-6 and you go out at a running back or a quarterback. If I knock off somebody's helmet, now I'm going to get ejected? That's crazy."
  • Indiana safety Greg Heban: "If that's the decision they're going to make, then that's what they're going to make. It's going to be something kind of different for us, and we have to realize when we go to hit, we have to kind of think about what we're going to hit instead of just attacking."

Carollo met with the Big Ten coaches in February and showed them about a dozen potential targeting fouls from the 2012 season. He also told them the NCAA playing rules oversight panel likely would approve ejections for the most egregious offenders. Carollo spent the spring and early summer educating his officials on the rule.

The focus now turns to players as the season approaches.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," Carollo said. "We have a plan in place that we'll get to every team, whether it's myself or a head referee or senior official. The same information that we gave our officials, the same message is going to the coaching staffs, and if there's a need, we'll take it to the players ourselves and spend a couple hours showing plays."

Michigan State All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough said the Spartans' defense hasn't discussed the targeting policies yet as a group. He didn't know much about the increased penalties until he came to media days.

"It's not something you do on purpose," Bullough said. "If something like that happens, it's an accident, anyway, so there's nothing you can do about it. Whether they penalize you or eject you, there's nothing different you can do. It happens so fast. The rules they make are a little bit ridiculous.

"What, are you just going to stop and think? What are you going to do when a running back puts his head down? It's just too hard."

When informed of Bullough's concerns, Carollo acknowledged that it's difficult to change course or angle at full speed.

"I'm not asking you to adjust in midair," he said. "I'm asking you to adjust in June, July, August. I'm not asking you to change the way you teach players how to make tackles. I'm asking them, don't launch and lead with your head, keep your head up, move it to the side, wrap up with your arms, put a shoulder into [the opponent's] chest, hit 'em as hard as you want, but don't hit them in the head."

The much-publicized Jadeveon Clowney hit against Michigan's Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl, while vicious, was a legal play because Clowney didn't target Smith's head, Carollo said.

Although the coaches aren't in total agreement about the rule and its heavy consequences -- Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald this week proposed a soccer-style approach with a warning (yellow card) for the first offense and an ejection (red card) for the second -- they all want to protect players. But Carollo thinks the number of targeting fouls will drop "once they start losing players."

"The good coaches will get out ahead of it," he said. "Some coaches that don't totally buy into it, if [their players] don't make changes, that's fine, but they're subject to greater risk of not playing. It might take a year. It might take our officials another year to really perfect this call.

"It's a severe penalty, but I don't think it's too harsh. The intent was to make it immediate, and raise the stakes a little bit to get attention and change players' behavior."

Big Ten mailblog

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
11:00
AM ET
I didn't have time for the regular mailblog Tuesday, but I didn't forget it. Let's get to those questions.

Sean from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Adam, While I like the targeting rule, what happens to players that dont get flagged on the field, but the play gets reviewed after the game? I can think of plenty of times a hit doesnt get flagged during the game and then the following week a suspension is handed down. Also, what happens when a ref flags a call that isnt targeting and suspends a playmaker? They cant review flags, and taking out a major player for a good hit could completely change the momentum of a game, or worse the outcome.

Adam Rittenberg: Sean, Big Ten officiating chief Bill Carollo reviews plays after every set of games, as coaches from around the league send in clips for review. Carollo and commissioner Jim Delany still will determine any penalties (i.e., suspensions) if they're warranted, just like they've done in the past. We haven't seen suspensions handed down after games very often in recent seasons, but the review process will continue. Carollo told me mistakes will be made and some targeting penalties will be called -- with ejections -- when they shouldn't be. Officials hope replay will clarify whether a hit is targeting or not, and the replay booth will have the final say on whether a player is ejected.

We could see key players ejected when they should remain in the game, and that'll be very unfortunate, but the idea is to reduce the number of hits to the head in the long term. And if a player is unfairly ejected, Carollo will review the play and have the power to reduce any punishment that carries over into the next game. So if a player is ejected in the second half, he may not have to sit out the first half of the following game.


Kevin from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Adam,I see where Adullah for Nebraska is out for about two weeks. With Heard gone there is only Imani Cross left, and two rookies. Why did Pelini not keep heard from transferring? We're in the same boat as last year where Cross is then only good running back if Abdullah goes down. If you look at it with Martinez, Abdullah, Cross and Heard, Marlowe and Bell that would have been a great offensive attack. And even last year we would have had Green in the backfield. What is Coach thinking?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, I understand your concern here, although coaches can't "keep" a player from transferring if the player has made up his mind and wants to leave. Heard clearly had reached that point with Nebraska. It's fair to ask whether Pelini should have been more in tune with Heard's unhappiness in Lincoln, as he was surprised by the first report about a Heard transfer. It's also fair to ask whether the coaches made a mistake by suggesting Heard move from running back to wide receiver, where the team already has good depth. After losing Aaron Green last spring, Nebraska certainly could have benefited from three backs with experience entering the 2013 season. Abdullah's knee injury fortunately isn't serious, and I really like Cross' potential. But after those two, it's a little shaky, and most Big Ten teams play at least two backs. Ultimately, I think Nebraska will be OK at running back, but the Huskers can't afford many injuries.


Zac from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: What are your guesses for night games this year? Do you think Michigan-Penn State or UM-MSU will be one? Do you know when they will be released?

Adam Rittenberg: Zac, the Big Ten and its television partners have started discussing the primetime schedule, but I don't expect it to be finalized until late April, if not early May. Maybe they'll get it done sooner, but with the NCAA basketball tournament kicking off, things get put on hold. We already know three night games in Week 1 -- UNLV at Minnesota, Indiana State at Indiana and Western Michigan at Michigan State -- along with the Notre Dame-Michigan game in Week 2 at the Big House. There also will be some -- not a ton, but some -- November night games this year, which is a welcome change. I'd love to see Michigan-MSU under the lights at Spartan Stadium, and there's certainly a chance there. While Michigan doesn't want to play MSU at night, MSU athletic director Mark Hollis is more open to the idea. I'd expect Michigan-Penn State to end up at night in State College. Other possible/likely night games include Wisconsin-Ohio State, Ohio State-Northwestern, Northwestern-Nebraska and Penn State-Ohio State.


Trevor from Wisconsin writes: In regards to Wisconsin's QB battle, I have a simple solution. Stave gets the nod, but has to battle Houston to keep the job (ultimate tie-breaker is a best-of-7 rock/paper/scissors match), move the JUCO transfer to wide receiver (where he was meant to be out of HS), and have tell Danny to grab a clipboard and Curt a coaching cap. Everything would work out for the best if that was the scenario, just saying ...

Adam Rittenberg: Glad to hear you have it all figured out, Trevor! Gary Andersen and Andy Ludwig are going to take the rest of the spring off. I do love the rock/paper/scissors tiebreaker. Ultimately, I think it will come down to Stave and Houston for the starting job, but Andersen repeatedly has said Tanner McEvoy, like all junior-college players, will have a chance to compete for a starting job even though he doesn't arrive until the summer. Wisconsin really could use another wide receiver, though. Hmmm ... I'm also interested to see how Wisconsin uses Phillips. He could be a great change-of-pace guy with his running ability.


J.J. from Tumalo, Ore., writes: B1G in discussion with ACC (!), B12 and SEC to form a bowl alliance. What about your buddies out here on the Left Coast? Et tu B1G!

Adam Rittenberg: The CBSSports.com story you refer to suggests the Big Ten would have a reduced role -- if any role at all -- in the multileague bowl alliance. But we will be seeing leagues partner up with bowl tie-ins for the next cycle. As I reported last week, it's possible we see the Big Ten and Big 12 share a tie-in with the Holiday Bowl, where they'll face a Pac-12 opponent. I think it's imperative that the Big Ten creates another tie-in -- either annually or on a rotational basis -- with the Pac-12 aside from the Rose Bowl. Big Ten and Pac-12 teams no longer meet every Jan. 1 in Pasadena, and with the Rose Bowl being part of the playoff semifinal rotation, there are no guarantees for the traditional matchup. So the Big Ten shouldn't forget about the Pac-12 when forming its new bowl lineup. Although the short-lived scheduling alliance between the leagues frayed the relationship a bit, the Big Ten and Pac-12 still have a lot in common and so many years of history with one another.


Machineunit27 from Berkley, Mich., writes: I know it's really early, but looking at Michigan's schedule, I can't see this team losing more than two games. Last year's losses were to two teams who played in the National Championship game, an undefeated Buckeyes squad, Nebraska, and South Carolina. All of these teams are good teams and every loss (with the exception to Alabama, who hardly anyone played close) were close losses. It took 6 turnovers for ND to beat us by a TD and a Denard Robinson injury to stop the comeback against the Cornhuskers dead in its tracks. Michigan is returning a great deal of talent, but it seems like they are getting a bad rap for their 8-5 record even though many knew they were playing a much tougher schedule compared to the previous years Sugar Bowl Champions. After all that, my question is: Is the B1G really becoming the Big 2 and the other 10, are we already there, or is there more parity in the conference with Ohio State at the front of it all?

Adam Rittenberg: I think the schedule argument is somewhat valid, Machine. Michigan probably wasn't as good as its 11-2 record in 2011 (benefited from an easy schedule) and not as bad as its 8-5 mark last season (played so many elite teams). The Wolverines have some question marks on both sides of the ball, as head coach Brady Hoke detailed in his interview with Brian, but they certainly could take that next step and win the Legends division. I don't think the Big Ten is back to the Big Two and everyone else. Although Ohio State is the obvious favorite to win the conference this season, the Legends division will be very competitive with Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State. Don't count out Wisconsin or Penn State, either. And other programs like Minnesota and Indiana are making progress. If Ohio State and Michigan continue to recruit this well and develop the talent into stars, we could see more separation with those two and the rest of the league.


Mr. Pozzum from Arcadia, Calif., writes: Hey Adam! I love reading your blog about the B1G. Have you and Brian ever thought about taking one of us fans along with you on the spring games? If you need someone to go to the Michigan spring game, I'm available :)

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting idea, Pozzum. Maybe we'll create some kind of contest with that as a grand prize. You could be my cameraman and carry my bags. Sounds like a great idea. Will keep you posted.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
4:30
PM ET
Rounding out the work week every Friday around this time.

John from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam,I'm a 1971 Purdue Grad and am excited about Coach Hazell heading the Boilermaker program. Now that Gunnar Kiel has decided to transfer from ND, do you think he might connect with Purdue on what appears to be a very good fit?

Adam Rittenberg: John, I wrote about this earlier today and mentioned Purdue as a possible landing spot for Kiel. The one potential issue is that Notre Dame could block a transfer to a future opponent like the Boilers. Several Purdue fans I heard from on Twitter didn't seem to want Kiel, citing the talent already on the roster like Austin Appleby and Danny Etling. And that could be the smart play. We don't know what Appleby or Etling can do at the college level, but both clearly have talent. And Kiel brings with him a lot of baggage and drama that a new coach like Darrell Hazell might not want. Ultimately, it comes down to talent and whether Kiel would be a better option than other quarterbacks on the roster. If so, Purdue absolutely should pursue him if he can transfer there.


Rich from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, I applaud the targeting rule. However, The ejection component could cause some major controversies. I know the officials spokespeople will say that the hit will have to be unquestionably a targeting penalty to result in an ejection. However, we have seen dozens of replay calls ruled the opposite way from what appears to be obvious to viewers. Moreover, I realize they like to equate targeting to fighting. However, it is very clear when a player throws a punch, unlike some of these hits that are a hair's breadth on one side or the other of targeting. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to suspend a player for one full game after a review by the league office? This eliminates the pressure of the in-game officials having to eject players on close calls. It also eliminates the possibility of Carollo's feared "5-minute production." Additionally, waiting until after the game is over to invoke what amounts to a one-game suspension removes the awkwardness of missing the 2nd half of one game and the first half of another. Plus, the way the ejection is set up now can result in some very inequitable penalties. A player penalized in the first minute would miss an entire game basically. A player penalized in the last minute of the 2nd half would miss what amounts to only half a game. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: A lot of good points here as always, Rich, and I agree the ejections will be controversial no matter what. Carollo noted that some of these calls will be missed and that there's a very fine line between an ejectable targeting penalty, a regular unnecessary roughness penalty and even some legal hits. The Jadeveon Clowney-Vincent Smith hit was a good example of a legal play but one that looks really bad. A lot of the responsibility rests with the replay officials. They'll ultimately judge whether to uphold an ejection on the field or overrule it. There's more pressure on them, and they need to be really, really accurate. And as Bill Carollo said, you don't want the process to drag on. I think it's critical to be as clear as possible on defining targeting so everyone -- officials, coaches, players, fans -- has a good grasp on it before the season starts. Coaches need to educate their players in practice, and players must be aware of it in games. Ultimately, I think there will be a handful of obvious ejectable targeting penalties, like the Earnest Thomas play in the Penn State game. There probably will be 2-3 debatable ejections per year, which could loom large. But the idea is to decrease the overall number of these plays -- "take the head out of the game," as Carollo puts it.


David from Warren, Mich., writes: With the apparent need of northern schools to be able to successfully recruit in the south in order to maintain a high level of football talent, do you see a possibility of the B1G opening a recruitment center(s) in cities such as Orlando, Atlanta, and/or Dallas? B1G recruitment centers located in major southern cities could feature lavishly appointed recruiting lounges which could be shared by all conference member institutions. State of the art audio/visual rooms could be incorporated into such facilities where B1G recruiters would be able to give presentations to recruits. These centers could also possibly include a mini hostel on site for usage by B1G recruiters.These recruitment centers could even feature easily changeable interior decor/logos for all B1G member institutions so that recruiters can quickly customize the facilities prior to the arrival of a recruit. I don't know if such an idea is even legal under NCAA rules, but it would seem to be an interesting way to pool resources among the members of the B1G.

Adam Rittenberg: David, you've definitely given this some thought! It reminds me of baseball teams setting up training centers in Latin America, although this would be league-sponsored rather than team-sponsored. Unfortunately, I think the NCAA would take issue with such a recruiting center. Also, there would have to be extremely clear and strict rules about usage of center so no teams could get an advantage. The center would need an enforcement staff to prevent rules violations. It would be ... interesting to say the least. I absolutely love the concept of all the Big Ten recruiters staying in the same mini hostel. They'd try to kill one another.


Darek D. from Colorado Spring, Colo., writes: I keep hearing you guys talk about Pelini needing to get over the hump. Being a Buckeye fan, I find it very similar to the John Cooper years. I remember a friend laughing at me saying, "How do you fire a coach with that kind of winning percentage?" What stood out to me was that all those wins don't mean anything if you never win the ones you REALLY want. You end the season feeling like you had a losing record. Is it the same situation for the Nebraska fans?

Adam Rittenberg: Darek, that's a really interesting comparison between Pelini and Cooper. There certainly are some similarities (two traditional powers, fans used to championships). One big difference is that Pelini doesn't have a Michigan problem like Cooper did. Nebraska doesn't have one game every year that takes precedence above all others (it used to with Oklahoma). I also think Nebraska fans are, for the most part, realistic about where the program was (mid-1990s) and where it is now. They're not expecting national titles every year, although they do and should expect conference championships, which Pelini has yet to deliver.

It is hard to cut ties with a coach who wins nine or 10 games per season. But man, do losses like Nebraska's Big Ten title game disaster really sting. It makes you wonder if Pelini can get the program to the next level. We could find out this season.


Garrett from Smithfield, Ohio, writes: Where do you think that Ohio State can improve most in the passing game? Is it more about Braxton Miller or is it mostly the lack of quality receivers? Could it also be the pass protection?

Adam Rittenberg: I hate to sound like a coach, Garrett, but it's really all of the above. Ohio State needs more depth at receiver, and not necessarily the game-breaker types, but the reliable targets who can help the high-percentage pass game. Miller has shown he can stretch the field with guys like Devin Smith, but who will be the 65- or 70-catch guy who converts third-and-6? I think Jordan Hall's return could really help Ohio State's pass game, even though he'll also play running back. Another point Meyer made after the season is that Miller, while brilliant on designed runs, wasn't a very good scrambler in 2012. He didn't take off when he should have, and ended up taking too many sacks. Ohio State surrendered 29 sacks in 2012, the third-highest total in the Big Ten. The line needs to improve in protection, but Miller is also part of the equation there. Bottom line: I think Ohio State's pass game will be better this fall. Miller returns, almost all the receivers are back and so are four starting linemen.


Steve from State College, Pa., writes: Saw this in yesterday's mailblog, and was wondering, 17.9.5.1.1 In-Season Foreign Competition. [FBS/FCS] A member institution may play one or more of its countable contests in football in one or more foreign countries on one trip during the prescribed playing season. However, except for contests played in Canada, Mexico or on a certified foreign tour 17 (see Bylaw 17.28), the institution may not engage in such in-season foreign competition more than once every four years. So with this bylaw does this mean that Navy and Notre Dame are completely out of the question for Penn State's possible Ireland game?

Adam Rittenberg: Yes, that seems to be the correct interpretation of the rule. Unless Penn State were willing to wait three more seasons -- which makes no sense since the postseason ban expires after 2015 -- neither Notre Dame nor Navy could be the opponent.


Anthony from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: March Madness is here! Any chance you're going to be at the United Center reporting on the B1G tourney for ESPN? Are you daring enough to put up your predictions after all the regular season battles are over? And can we expect you to and Brian to fill out some brackets? Just because this is the football blog and spring practices are kicking into high gear doesn't mean we can't get your guy's opinion! (even though here in Iowa City, doesn't really feel like spring with a foot of snow on the ground)

Adam Rittenberg: I will be at the United Center next week, although I'll be doing more game-watching -- and football blogging -- than basketball coverage. Check out colleagues Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf for your hoops needs. But I'm really looking forward to it. It's been a great season for Big Ten hoops, although things seem to have dipped a bit in recent weeks. Brian Bennett is definitely the authority for hoops around these parts, but I'll weigh in with my bracket predictions. The Big Ten has been the nation's deepest league all season, but I wonder if there's a lot of good and not much great. It's time the Big Ten won a championship in basketball -- none since Michigan State in 2000 -- and this figures to be the year to do it.
Big Ten officials ejected only one player (Illinois safety Earnest Thomas against Penn State) for a helmet-to-helmet hit during the 2012 season.

If the new NCAA rules for targeting had been in place, that number would have swelled to seven or eight, according to Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo. The NCAA's playing rules oversight panel on Thursday approved a new rule that requires the ejection of players flagged for targeting or contacting defenseless opponents above the shoulders. The current targeting penalty includes only a 15-yard penalty. The new policy, which goes into effect for the 2013 season, requires the penalty plus an ejection.

[+] EnlargeEarnest Thomas and Matt Lehman
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY Sports Under new NCAA rules, ejections for targeting a defenseless opponent above the shoulders -- Illinois' Earnest Thomas was the only Big Ten player ejected for that last season -- could become more common.
The ejection for targeting mirrors the one for fighting. Players who commit the foul in the first half miss the remainder of the game, while those who commit the foul in the second half miss the remainder of the game and the first half of the next contest.

"It's a very serious penalty," Carollo told ESPN.com on Thursday. "It's a big change. However, I think it will be a big positive point for the game. When we look back in 3-5 years, I think we're going to say this is a really big moment."

Player safety has become an increasingly bigger point of emphasis for officials in recent years, especially with increased education about the effects of concussions. The Big Ten has led the charge nationally, and while the number of unnecessary roughness penalties in the league has remained about the same, Carollo has seen a slight decrease in helmet-to-helmet targeting fouls.

The hope is that the numbers continue to drop because of the new, stricter policy.

"The impact is not that we're going to throw out a lot of guys," Carollo said. "The impact is we're going to have a lot of coaches and a lot of players adjusting to the rules. It may take a little bit of time, a few months of practice and a few weeks in August, and maybe even a couple games, but I think we'll get some positive results.

"The impact will be positive from the standpoint that players will continue to work hard to lower the target zone and to take the head out of the game."

Carollo and others in his position will spend the coming months working with officials to define targeting as clearly as possible. It can be a tedious process, as there can be helmet-to-helmet contact without obvious targeting, while intent "has nothing to do with it," Carollo said.

Officials will make mistakes -- Carollo has told Big Ten coaches that one out of every 10 high hits called on the field technically was a legal hit -- but their consistency on the field must be as strong as possible. They also have a safety net of sorts in the replay booth. The replay official will review every on-field targeting penalty that carries an ejection and will rule whether the ejection should be upheld.

"Now we're asking replay to get a little bit involved more in the judgment call," Carollo said. "They do [currently] have some judgment, a few rules where they can create penalties, but the replay person in the booth is not the eighth official. The game is being officiated by the seven men or women on the field.

"Now he'll buzz down once it’s targeting, and he'll confirm that hit. ... The targeting calls are going to stand unless there's indisputable video evidence that shows it's nowhere near above the shoulders."

Carollo supports the use of replay in these instances but doesn't want to "make a 5-minute production out of it." The onus remains with the on-field officials.

Carollo also expects to review targeting ejections -- submitted to him by coaches after games -- along with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, and, in some cases, reduce the penalty impacting the following contest.

Not surprisingly, Carollo received some "good rebuttals" from "defensive-minded" Big Ten coaches about the proposed change at their annual meeting last month. He told them the policy change was inevitable and showed them plays that may or may not be targeting, including a block by Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell against Wisconsin cornerback Devin Smith in the 2012 Big Ten championship.

Bell was flagged for a personal foul, negating a touchdown. Carollo thinks the hit merited a penalty, but not an ejection for targeting the head.

The coaches also reviewed the now-famous hit against Michigan's Vincent Smith by South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl, which didn't draw a penalty.

"The tackler had his helmet up," Carollo said. "It was helmet-to-helmet, but it wasn't targeting. The helmets kissed, if you will, with the helmet up like that. The helmet came, the ball popped out, all at the same time. It looked vicious because [Smith's] helmet popped off, but technically, it was probably a legal play. That's in the gray area where it's close."

Carollo doesn't expect football to stop becoming fast and violent and noted that many "really vicious" hits are completely legal. But officials are going to err on the side of player safety whenever a blow to the head is involved.

The it's-just-football excuse no longer flies.

"It may be 'just football' for the last 50 years," Carollo said. "But going forward, we're trying to get that play out of the game."

In addition to another revision of the rules on low blocks, the rules committee also approved a rule requiring at least three seconds to remain on the clock in order to spike the ball to stop the clock at the end of halves. Carollo said the change stems from the 2012 Rose Bowl, where Wisconsin's Russell Wilson attempted to spike the ball for one more play with two seconds left, but the clock ran out.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. To the emails ...

Glenn from Randolph, N.J., writes: Adam - Love the analysis of rivalries. The challenge I see is that aside from Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland have no natural or historical rvialries with the existing B1G teams. When the new divisions are aligned and a nine or ten game scheule developed, is it possible that some schools may have protected games and some may not? This would allow the new schools to rotate through all of the "western" schools more frequently but allow a couple of historical games to remain on the schedule annually.

Adam Rittenberg: Glenn, it's very possible the Big Ten will change its use of crossover games in the new alignment. League commissioner Jim Delany actually told me this Monday. There's really no reason for each team to have a crossover game. You want to create as much rotation as possible, especially for the new Big Ten members. The protected crossovers should only be used to preserve the top rivalries, really those in the untouchable category. By prioritizing geography, the Big Ten can do a better job of maintaining more rivalries with this division alignment so that it won't have to use too many crossovers. The athletic directors and the league office get it.


Charlie from Ames, Iowa, writes: Adam, coming from a Husker fan, how the HECK did you rank us 8th in the B1G for defensive line?! Take out a few of Eric Martin's sacks and they literally did absolutely nothing all year. I love my Huskers and I'm optimistic for the future (Bo supporter all the way), but the DL was absolutely terrible last year. Please re-rank and move them down.

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, rough assessment, Charlie, although you're hardly the only Huskers fan who feels this way. The defensive line has been on the decline since 2010, although injuries like Jared Crick and, to a lesser extent, Baker Steinkuhler haven't helped matters. Purdue's defensive line underachieved more than Nebraska's, which is why we put the Boilers at No. 9. Illinois also had more talent than it showed. Iowa's and Indiana's defensive lines both stumbled down the stretch. Defensive line will be a major emphasis point for Nebraska this spring, particularly the thin defensive tackle spot.


Misplaced Gopher from Fargo, N.D., writes: The Little Brown Jug is expendable? I disagree in very strong terms. There's a great history behind that trophy; unlike most traveling trophies it began with a genuine rivalry between two football superpowers and it grew organically. It wasn't a gimmick. I belong to a significant contingent of Minnesota fans who would rather beat Michigan than Wisconsin or Iowa. Michigan fans may disagree, but I'm confident that WHEN Minnesota retakes its place at the top of the college football hierarchy in the next few years, that dormant rivalry will explode.The expendable trophy game for Minnesota is the Governor's Victory Bell, which goes to the winner of Minn-Penn State. You neglected to even include the bell in your list. But that's okay, because most people don't even know that The Victory Bell exists.

Adam Rittenberg: I completely agree with you about the Jug's history, and also about the irrelevance of the Victory Bell. I realized after the post published that we left off that "rivalry," but as you point out, no one will miss it. As for the Jug game, while the history is terrific, the competitiveness for a long period of time just hasn't been there. The league has to make some tough choices with division alignment, and not every rivalry game can be saved. Minnesota has a lot of rivalries and a lot of trophy games. As you mention, you're in the minority with wanting to beat Michigan more than Wisconsin or Iowa. The Big Ten has to deal more with what the majority wants since it can't preserve every single rivalry. Now if Minnesota makes the rise you envision and starts beating the Big Ten's elite every year, including Michigan, maybe we'll reconsider.


Andrew from Laingsburg, Mich., writes: My concern with increased penalties for "helmet-to-helmet hits" is that the B1G officials have been comparatively quick to call those penalties. There seemed to be one or two called in every B1G conference game but I didn't see any called (with non-B1G officials) in the B1G bowls. For example, I think the Clowney-on-Smith hit from the Outback Bowl would have been penalized by a B1G officiating crew.

Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, some good points here. Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo has made high hits and player safety major priorities with his crews. I'll look into whether they're calling those penalties more than crews from other conferences, but you might be right. The key thing with this proposal is the replay component because the replay official can overturn an ejection if he feels there is conclusive evidence. If replay does its job, the right decisions ultimately will be made. Yet as we saw during last season in the Big Ten, replay officials make mistakes, too. But I'm very interested to see how that element factors into the new rule.


Bill from Streeterville writes: I was a little surprised to see Nebraska-Ohio State as a rivalry you "would keep if possible," but no mention of Nebraska-Michigan. Not only do OSU and NU roll off one another's schedules for the foreseeable future, but the NU-UM match-up has had significance in divisional play for the Huskers' first two years in the B1G. Is it the Pelini-Ohio connection you're promoting? Or is OSU-NU better for the B1G for other reasons?

Adam Rittenberg: Both games are potential showcases for the Big Ten, the types of games that could command national television audiences in primetime. We could have included Nebraska-Michigan as well, but I do like the Pelini connection to Ohio State and the fact both schools have some tradition of hosting night football (Michigan just recently entered that realm), as their games more often than not should be held under the lights. But there isn't much separating the two games in my mind. It's likely that Michigan joins Ohio State's division in the new alignment, so Nebraska would only play the Wolverines and the Buckeyes on a rotational basis unless protected by a crossover, which is currently Penn State. I actually like keeping the Nebraska-Penn State game on an annual basis and rotating Michigan and Ohio State onto Nebraska's schedules from the other division.


John from DeForest, Wis., writes: Adam - Maybe the B1G can capitalize on a 9 game conference schedule to lock up that elusive scheduling agreement with another conference. Since several major conferences are already committed to 9 game conference schedules, they are hurting from the schedule imbalance too. Why not use the non-conference tie-in to balance it? When a team has only 4 conference home games, then their tie-in non-conference game would be home. It might not balance the conference aspect of things, but I think it would help to balance everything else.

Adam Rittenberg: John, several folks have brought this up, and Jim Delany told me Monday that despite the collapse of the Pac-12 alliance, he remains interested in forming partnerships with other conferences, whether it's for scheduling or bowl tie-ins. The Big Ten certainly doesn't want to get burned again, and it would need strong assurances from another conference that all of that league's members would be on board. The ACC would make the most sense as a partner -- I don't think the SEC would ever go for it -- as it also soon will have 14 teams and will play nine league games. The Big Ten-ACC alliance in basketball has worked out well. You have to wonder whether any tension from Maryland's departure to the Big Ten -- or the rumors about the Big Ten targeting other ACC programs for expansion -- would turn off ACC commissioner John Swofford. But it's something to monitor and would be a nice complement to a 9-game league slate.


Shawn from Oshkosh, Wis., writes: Adam, I respectfully disagree with your analysis of teams that have a chance to have a 1,000-yard rushers, 1,000-yard receiver and 2,000-yard quarterback. As you stated no Badger QB eclipsed 1,200 yards passing but Stave only played in 7 of the 14 games and in 2 of those 7 he played in he didn't play the full game. Aside from Stave, Phillips/O'Brien combined for over 1,000 yards in their 7 games; given the opportunity for a UW starter to play a full season it will be very possible for a 2,000-yard passing season. Next year, I expect much more continuity at the QB spot and thus Wisconsin should be among those with an expected 2,000-yard passer. At RB, White had 806 yards and Gordon 621, all while splitting carries with each other and Montee so at least one of those guys will get 1,000. At WR, Abbrederis had 837 yards and with more continuity at QB I expect this number to rise. I appreciate your blog and enjoy all of your(and Brian's) thoughts. Do you think what I'm saying is a fair assumption or am I just overly optimistic?

Adam Rittenberg: Shawn, I think you misunderstood the post. It points out that from a statistical standpoint, the Big Ten has few teams that return elite triumvirates -- quarterback, running back and wide receiver. You don't need to sell me on Jared Abbrederis or on the two running backs. But you're assuming one of those quarterbacks is going to produce. I could assume the same thing about the other returning quarterbacks who didn't come close to 2,000 pass yards. The post deals in absolutes -- who put up numbers and who didn't. I think it's telling that the Big Ten has only three teams bringing back a quarterback, a running back and a receiver who all put up big numbers in 2012.


Matt from Stamford, Conn., writes: Adam - I have just finished listening to your colleague Ivan Maisel discuss and interview Don Van Natta Jr. regarding the Freeh and Paterno reports. I think it would be a great option to add the podcast to the B1G Blog for everyone to listen to. It provides an excellent analysis and summary of where things stand with the Sandusky situation, while most other articles I've read or interviews I've heard are strictly for or against each report.

Adam Rittenberg: Good call, Matt, and I should have linked the podcast earlier this week. Ivan and Don did a great job. You can listen to it here, and be sure and bookmark our podcasts page.
Big Ten officiating is in the crosshairs after the events of recent weeks.

There has been as much or more attention on the seven men in stripes and the two in the replay booth as the 22 men wearing helmets and pads. Big Ten coaches and players have openly questioned calls, and many fans, with the help of technology, have dissected key decisions and voiced their opinions as well.

Bill Carollo is well aware of the issues. The Big Ten's coordinator of football officials, in his fourth year on the job, oversees all the crews, addresses all questioned calls from coaches and provides answers, even if it's just, "We made a mistake and here's why." Carollo also manages all scheduling, training, evaluation and penalties for Big Ten officials.

League policy prohibits him from commenting on specific calls, but he spoke extensively with ESPN.com this week in an effort to shed more light on how games and officials are evaluated, instant replay issues, the consequences for mistakes and the key emphasis points for his crews.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
Bruce Thorson/US PresswirePSU QB Matt McGloin talks to an official in the Nov. 10 game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
"We were having a good year," Carollo said. "Have we stumbled the last couple weeks in some high-profile games? Absolutely. Are there a couple plays that I would like to have officiated differently? Absolutely. Is it going to be perfect? There's never been a perfect game -- played, coached or officiated. Never.

"But we certainly can be consistent. That's what our goal is."

Let's dive in ...

How are Big Ten officials evaluated?

Every play involving a Big Ten officiating crew is graded. Carollo, a former NFL referee who officiated two Super Bowls and seven conference title games, has contracted active NFL officials -- not affiliated with the Big Ten -- to serve as independent evaluators. Coaches send in their game tapes to the Big Ten after each contest, and evaluators use those camera angles (end zone and and sideline) plus the television broadcasts to do their grades.

In addition, Carollo has "coaches" for each official on the field and those in the replay booth. For example, former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit and current NFL referee John Parry work with the Big Ten's head referees. Dean Blandino, who directs the NFL's instant replay program, works directly with the Big Ten's replay officials.

Game grades must be completed by Tuesday, and officials receive their grades with comments on Wednesdays. All mistakes are noted, and officials can even earn a demerit if they make a correct call from the wrong position. One goal is not just to list the mistake, but the reason for it.

Head referees communicate with the evaluators and can question grades on certain plays.

Crews average about five mistakes per game, and the numbers haven't increased in this particular season.

"There is accountability, and that's the key thing," Carollo said. "They've never been evaluated like this before. If we don't evaluate our officials, if we can't measure them, we won't improve."

What type of input do coaches have?

Carollo receives a list of plays to review from every Big Ten coach after every game (he also hears from athletic directors). He asks the coaches to take a 12-hour "cooling-off period" after the game before submitting their plays. The submissions come in mostly Sunday and Carollo responds to each one himself, providing explanations for why a penalty was called (or why not). Carollo typically watches all games in the Big Ten's television command center and notes calls that he could be hearing about later from the coaches.

Carollo doesn't directly grade his crews -- that's what the independent evaluators are for -- but he will provide his views by Tuesday night.

"I want to know what the coaches' biggest beef is," he said. "The teams get the right answers from us."

What are the key goals of replay?

The purpose, according to Carollo, is to fix major mistakes, particularly those involving scoring or change of possession. The goal isn't to review whether it's second-and-6 or second-and-7 in the first quarter.

A decision to reverse a call on the field "has to be indisputable" for the replay officials. Carollo wants any judgment calls to be made by the on-field officials.

"If [the replay official] has to go a couple minutes, there's probably some question," Carollo said. "Either you don't have the right video to prove it, or it's so close, it's so tight. I'm not sure, but I think it's a touchdown. I think it’s a completed catch. I think he stayed in bounds. Well, in replay, you can't think. You have to know. Because the premise is the ruling on the field is correct unless you have absolute 100 percent proof. Not 98 percent.

"That doesn't fly in the replay booth."

What are the consequences for mistakes?

All Big Ten officials are on one-year contracts. Carollo tentatively schedules officiating crews 3-4 weeks in advance, but nothing is final and officials can be taken off of games for poor performance.

The decisions are made internally and not revealed publicly, but "that has happened," Carollo said.

Carollo rotates crews so they see different teams and tries to mix experienced officials with younger ones. But he notes, "I try to put my best officials that are officiating well on the biggest games."

These include the Big Ten title game and any bowl game where a Big Ten crew is used.

What happens when an official blows a critical call?

"It's red-lettered and circled," Carollo said. "A real big minus to the point where one call could cost you your job, one call could cost you a postseason assignment, one call could take away the rest of the season or be a suspension."

Carollo doesn't like suspending officials for a poor judgment call and points out that if he fired or suspended every official for a mistake, there wouldn't be enough of them to work games. Some officials also are moved to different positions if they're deemed to be out of place.

Replay officials are assigned to games independently -- in the future, they may work with the same on-field crews, but not now -- are graded on every review or potential review where a play should have been stopped but wasn't.

"If they had something that was very controversial or incorrect, that would be figured into their grade, into their assignments and for sure into their postseason and if they're going to be retained," Carollo said.

Carollo is a big believer in constant evaluation, and he knows the buck stops with him.

"They should fire me if I've got the wrong guys out there," he said. "I hired them, I'm training them and I take full responsibility for them."

Are penalties tracked against certain teams?

At the end of each season, Carollo provides each Big Ten coach with a 50-page report that details, among other things, every play, every call, every replay review, all correct calls, all incorrect calls, which plays the coaches questioned (and Carollo's responses) and which crews worked the games.

As a reminder, the crews are rotated so they get to see each team multiple times.

"I tell the coaches, 'Here’s how you did in the five most popular areas for flags. You led the league in high hits. Maybe we should talk to your team about high hits. You led the league in pass interference,'" Carollo said.

What are the key points of emphasis?

Pass interference was a focal point in Carollo's first season in 2009, along with holding. But high hits have been the chief concern for Carollo and his crews the past three seasons. Carollo acknowledges he'd rather the officials throw more flags for high hits -- even if their accuracy isn't as strong as it is for other penalties -- if it helps reduce them.

"We have probably led the charge in that area, the Big Ten, as far as high hits and reprimands on players in the last three, four years," Carollo said. "The rest of the country is catching up in this area. We've made some big improvement in our most important area."

Pass interference has been spotlighted in recent weeks as coaches from several Big Ten teams have voiced complaints.

There are six categories for defensive pass interference and three for offensive pass interference. Big Ten officials will cut defenders slack for playing the ball, while those who don't will almost always be flagged for contact.

Carollo notes that some officials are "going too quick" and throwing flags because they think a defender will interfere before he actually does.

"The first eight weeks were very good; the last two weeks, not as good," he said. "Pass interference has raised its ugly head, so we're spending a lot more time on that with our trainers, with our graders and my training tapes."

What's the objective going forward?

"It's a challenging job to get consistency, and I think we’ll always have some inconsistency," Carollo said. "The Big Ten coaches have been outstanding. They understand the guidelines, they understand it's a hard job, but they just want to make sure it's consistent and it's fair.

"We're trying to work toward that."

Big Ten mailblog

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
5:00
PM ET
Happy Tuesday. Let's do this.

Nic from Vermillion, S.D., writes: Say the Huskers lose in the Big title game; is their destination likely the Outback bowl, since the Capital one want us two years in a row or will that also depend on where South Carolina ends up? Finally, if they go to the Rose bowl, and there are no extra Pac 12 teams eligible, what are the odds of the Fiesta bowl snatching up Notre Dame instead, leading to a Neb vs OU matchup?

Adam Rittenberg: Nic, I think there's a good chance Nebraska would go to Outback rather than Cap One because it would be a repeat and Michigan hasn't gone to Orlando since Lloyd Carr's final game (Jan. 1, 2008). Both fan bases travel well and both teams have name recognition, so it's a win-win for both bowls. I think Cap One will have some flexibility with the SEC pick, as Florida, LSU and South Carolina are all in the mix. Regarding your Rose Bowl scenario, if no Pac-12 teams are eligible and Notre Dame is, I'd be very surprised if the Rose doesn't select the Irish to face the Big Ten champion. A potentially undefeated Notre Dame team -- or, heck, even a one-loss Notre Dame team -- would be extremely appealing to the Rose officials. While some Nebraska fans certainly would prefer longtime rival Oklahoma, you can't fault the Rose for picking the Irish if it can.




Rich from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, I think the notion of officials conspiring with the Conference office is absurd. However, the quality of the officiating in the Big Ten is markedly poorer this season and has been getting gradually worse for several seasons. The Big Ten should hire a third party outside of the conference office to evaluate the officials. And those evaluations should be shared with the public each week. This brings transparency to the discussion. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Rich, I don't know if I'd agree the officiating has been getting worse over time. I think officials always missed calls, but the improvement of technology with so many camera angles, slow-motion replay, etc., allows us to see so much more of the game than we used to. This season hasn't been a good one for Big Ten officials. Far too many errors, and the replay issue at Nebraska is inexcusable in my view. Bill Carollo, while working for the Big Ten, does evaluate every game and every official and every play sent in by the coaches. I think Bill is really good at his job and nationally respected in the officiating world. I would like to see the Big Ten be more transparent about officiating and acknowledge some of these mistakes publicly. That's not the league's style, but the world has changed and fans have much more access to potential bad calls than they used to. The public deserves some answers.




Chris from Traverse City, Mich., writes: What happened to the Big Ten Champion playing in the Orange Bowl that was announced a few weeks back, but not finalized? I suspect with many Michigan fans in Florida, and big Ten fans, that Miami could still be the preferred destination over Arizona.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I think the commissioners all had to compromise to an extent, and the Big Ten and SEC having access to two contract bowls each (Big Ten with Rose, SEC with Sugar/Champions) wasn't equitable to the other leagues. Also, it wasn't necessarily the Big Ten champion that would go to the Orange Bowl in years where the Rose served as a semifinal, but it would have been the next highest-rated Big Ten team in some years. Ultimately, there wasn't enough support for this among the group, and that's why you see a wider bowl destination pool for Big Ten champions that a) aren't in the top four and b) can't go to the Rose Bowl because it's being used as a national semifinal.




Shaun from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I agree about the officiating in the conference this year, and the Penn State fumble was clearly a blown call. But two things; there was plenty of time for Nebraska to come back and score had that been ruled a touchdown, it was hardly a game clincher. Secondly, Nebraska supposedly benefited from a bad PI call against MSU the week before; perhaps. But lets not forget that the call only moved NU closer to a TD; they were well within field goal range to send the game to OT, and had been the victim of several questionable calls earlier in that game, not the least of which was an NU player being shoved into the MSU QB out of bounds, a call that led directly to a Michigan State TD. Obviously all kinds of things could have changed following these calls, and if you believe in quantum realities, they did in a parallel universe. But frankly, if your team loses a game because of one blown call, your team needs to play better. Period

Adam Rittenberg: Shaun, I completely agree with your last point, and it's why the complaining from fans, while somewhat understandable, gets really old. Unless the call is made on the final play of the game and changes a score or a likely scoring chance, you can't definitively say it cost a team that game. Penn State never really stopped Nebraska's offense in the second half Saturday. Would the Lions have won had Matt Lehman's reach been correctly ruled a touchdown? Maybe, maybe not. It's not an absolute. It's unfortunate and a mistake that shouldn't be tolerated by Bill Carollo. But it's not the sole reason for Penn State's loss, either. If you want to cite a call that determined a game, look to the penalty on Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis for running into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman in last year's Big Ten title game, which nullified a Keshawn Martin punt return that could have set up the game-winning score. Instead, Wisconsin runs out the clock and wins a league title. That's a big call (and a correct one, I may add).




Fox from Los Angeles writes: nothing cheers me up - not the fact that Northwestern could easily end up with 9 wins this year for the first time since '08, not the revelation that has been Venric Mark at running back, not even the overall improvement of a defense that lost a lot of veterans. Why? It's because it doesn't matter - at the end of the day, NU is just going to blow it in the second half. Every time, the same way. You can set your watch by them. Is it unreasonable for me to want to see some heads roll? I know Fitz is committed to his coaching staff and I applaud that, but this is getting ridiculous. If the players come and go but the results are the same (it's like watching games on repeat) then it's got to be the coaching right? Is it time to send the defensive coordinator packing or must we remain patient just a little longer?

Adam Rittenberg: Fox, understand your frustration, and you make some valid points about Northwestern's late-game issues. It does seem at times that Pat Fitzgerald plays not to lose and hopes the other team makes enough mistakes, rather than going for the kill and finishing them off. Northwestern rarely seems comfortable playing with a big lead. On the flip side, the Wildcats never, ever give up and are terrific at responding, even from tough losses like Saturday's. From a macro perspective, the program is in really good shape, and you should remember that even if you're disappointed right now. This team wasn't supposed to do much -- I had them at 6-6 -- and it's a few plays away from potentially heading to the Big Ten title game. Unlike most Big Ten teams, Northwestern has some decent nonconference wins (Vanderbilt, Syracuse). It's an extremely young team, and Fitzgerald is finally showing more willingness to play talented young players rather than seniors who have paid their dues but lack talent. That's a significant step for him. The recruiting is improving and the recent facilities announcement is huge. There have been some coaching errors this year on both sides of the ball. The offensive game plans against Penn State and especially Nebraska were very poor. But the overall plan at Michigan was good. There were two really bad plays at the end (punt, Hail Mary) that cost the Wildcats. That has to improve and it's important for Fitzgerald to evaluate late-game situations, while acknowledging that his team still has won a lot of close games over the years. I advocated some staff changes after last year, but I don't think they're necessary now.




Brad in Minneapolis writes: Please walk us away from the ledge, Adam. Although many fans (like me) believed that Iowa would be mediocre given their returning players and new coordinators/coaches, they clearly have gone backwards! Offensively they may taken two steps backwards even thought they returned a QB many would say was one of the better passers in the B10. Is it talent? Is it the cruddy horizontal passing game? Is it the attrition from 2008-present? Is the program stale? I am tired of hearing about "execution" from the head coach. How do "lesser" teams do more with less? if you do not have the talent to run your scheme, shouldn't you modify the scheme?

Adam Rittenberg: Back away, Brad, back away. I hate to sound like a coach, but it's honestly a combination of things. A program that rarely changes coaches has a fairly extreme staff makeover in the offseason, and has clearly struggled to a adapt. James Vandenberg's struggles are baffling because he seemed on the cusp of big things after his junior season. He doesn't have a great receiving corps around him. The scheme doesn't seem to be clicking offensively, and the number of pass routes run short of the first-down marker is really inexcusable. That's Football 101, and Iowa keeps making the same mistake. The bigger issue here, as I've mentioned before, is that Iowa failed to build on the momentum from the Orange Bowl championship team in 2009. The 2010 season was really damaging because Iowa had so many NFL players on the roster and only managed to go 7-5 (8-5 after a bowl win). That's the year a program like Iowa has to capitalize on momentum and continue it, not go the other way. The team was mediocre in 2011 and bad this year, but that 2010 team is the one I keep thinking about. If Iowa wins the Big Ten that year, as some had predicted, things would be a lot different these days.




Angela from Houston writes: This was the worst article I believe I have ever read. I am not sure if you are unfamiliar with the Big Ten and just looked up our schedules for the next week and went off of that or if you truly don't know sports. The first line was ridiculous and made no sense: Nebraska has moved into the top 14 of the BCS standings, making it eligible for at-large BCS consideration. But the Big Ten's best -- and really only -- chance for an at-large berth is Michigan. You then move on to discuss who each team should root for, saying Nebraska should root for Iowa, well yes, I suppose if that was the only game that was left, Iowa will not beat Michigan, Ohio St, however most likely will. You continue to discuss scenarios, why even include Ohio St, they need to root for, themselves?This was awful, I would have just wrote in the comments, but do not have an account and didn't want to sign up for one. Believe you should know this, please do your homework a little bit better and proof read before submitting.

Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, guys, this was too hilarious not to post. Angela, what part about "Big Ten rooting interests: Week 12" do you not understand? Yes, the whole story is about which teams Big Ten should root for IN WEEK 12. So yes, Nebraska should root for Iowa to beat Michigan, because if Michigan loses, it can lock up a spot in Indianapolis with a victory against Minnesota. If both teams win, or even if Nebraska loses, I'll point out in next week's Rooting Interests piece that Nebraska should root for Ohio State to beat Michigan. As I explained, Nebraska is eligible for BCS at-large consideration but likely won't get there because it will a) win the Big Ten title and an automatic berth b) lose another game and be unable to get back into the top 14 by selection Sunday. You're telling me to proofread? Seriously?




Steve from Atlanta writes: Hi Adam,I'm starting to look forward to next year already so looking at cross over games for Legend Teams. It appears Michigan State has the easiest path to Indy. I was reminded they have Indiana has their permanent cross over game. They don't play Wisconsin, Ohio State or Penn State.I will never agree with having a permanent cross over game. It is patently unfair. I thought the idea in athletics was to have an even playing field. Michigan State has a clear advantage every year playing Indiana when Michigan has to play Ohio State and Nebraska has to play Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I agree with you about Michigan State. The Spartans face the three weakest teams in the Leaders Division and play Michigan at home. They do have to travel to both Nebraska and Northwestern, two teams that return a lot of firepower from this season, but the overall slate sets up extremely well. The crossover games aren't perfect, but they're designed to maintain some rivalries (Ohio State-Michigan, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Illinois-Northwestern) with teams in opposite divisions. Michigan State definitely benefits from getting Indiana every year rather than, say, Ohio State. But unless the divisions were reorganized to maintain more annual rivalries, you're going to see crossover games, which are, as you say, inequitable.
Aug. 5, 2012, 9:17 p.m., Des Plaines River Trail, Park Ridge, Ill. (across the street from Big Ten headquarters). Two cars pull up. Two men walk out, dressed in trench coats and sunglasses, despite the fact it's 87 degrees and, you know, dark.

"Did anyone follow you," one man asks the other.

"No, I made sure to circle O'Hare Airport four times before coming here," the other man replies.

"Good. Bill, listen, I need your help," the first man says. "I know you're nationally respected in the officiating world. You officiated two Super Bowls and seven conference title games, plus numerous Big Ten games. You've held the Big Ten crews to an extremely high standard in this role. Your entire career has been built on being fair and honorable, blah blah, blah. Whatever. We need to make Penn State pay this year."

"What do you mean, Jim?" the other man asks. "You mean the bowl ban, the scholarship losses, the lost Big Ten postseason revenue and the transfers weren't enough?"

"No, not enough. They still get to play games. Let's penalize them on the field ... by not penalizing their opponents. Get it? Get it?

(Silence)

"Jeez, you refs have no sense of humor. OK, Bill, here's the deal. I want your crews to ignore every holding call against Penn State. Every borderline call goes against them. Replay guys, too. They're in on this. If a call goes against Penn State on the field, those guys had better uphold it."

"Jim, this sounds like a conspiracy! I thought that was just for angry fans to whine about when their team loses. It doesn't actually happen, does it?"

"Happens all the time, Bill."

"OK, so my crews will intentionally make calls against Penn State?"

"You got it. They'll probably want to run off to the ACC now [devilish laugh]."

"Even in the Ohio State game? They're on probation, too. And they actually embarrassed you more with that Sugar Bowl thing."

"Dangit, don't remind me. You're right. But yeah, borderline calls go to the Buckeyes when they visit State College."

"Um, OK, Jim. Don't you think it'll be obvious?"

"Nah, they'll never catch us, Bill. And just to make sure, I want your crews to blackball another team. Let's see, let's see, how about Michigan State?"

"Er, OK, Jim. Anyone benefiting from all this?"

"You mean besides the rest of college football? We probably owe Nebraska a bit for giving them such tough schedules during their Big Ten baptism. The Huskers will love us after this season. So that's the deal. We'll call it Operation Cowardly Lion, OK?"

"OK."

"Catch ya later. Remember, Bill, honoring legends, building leaders, it's what we do."

Before you run off to the message boards or the fanboy blogs and then email me demanding a full investigation, let me tell you the preceding scenario is fiction. I repeat, FICTION. I'm 99.99999 percent sure Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo never had the meeting to hatch a conspiracy against Penn State. While I can't be 100 percent sure because, well, I wasn't hanging out on Des Plaines River Trail the night of Aug. 5, the chances are extremely slim.

If you believe it happened, I've got some oceanfront property in Topeka I'd love to show you.

Penn State fans are angry. Penn State players are angry. Lions head coach Bill O'Brien, while saying all the right things publicly, can't be pleased with what he has seen from Big Ten officials, especially coming from the NFL.

It has been a rough year for Big Ten officiating, the worst I've seen it in the five seasons of the Big Ten blog. There have been more questionable calls and more coaches questioning the questionable calls. It's disappointing because officiating should be getting better, not worse, especially with the replay system no longer a novelty.

Penn State has had several calls go against it in recent weeks. There were some in the Ohio State game, but they did not -- repeat did not -- cost Penn State the game. Ohio State was the superior team that night.

Several calls also went against Penn State on Saturday at Nebraska. Linebacker Gerald Hodges was held at least once. And replay officials botched what should have been an overturn on the Matt Lehman goal-line play in the fourth quarter. They said there wasn't indisputable video evidence to overturn the call. Well, there was. Lehman broke the plane before the ball was batted away. They blew it. And it's inexcusable. Would Penn State have gone on to win? Maybe. More than half the fourth quarter remained, and Penn State hadn't stopped Nebraska at all in the second half.

Still, it was a big call and a blown call. Should there be repercussions for the replay crew? Yes. I'll get to that later.

But the growing belief that there's an orchestrated conspiracy against Penn State by the Big Ten is absurd. There have been plenty of bad calls elsewhere. Each week, my inbox fills up late Saturday and into Sunday with fans of at least half the Big Ten teams complaining about officiating. It's part of the deal.

You really think the Big Ten, already embarrassed by recent scandals involving its schools, would orchestrate a conspiracy involving multiple officiating crews to punish Penn State (and, just to cover their bases, Michigan State?) A conspiracy that, in part, would benefit Ohio State, which directly embarrassed Delany more after he lobbied for the so-called Tat-5 to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl? It's silly talk.

I don't fault Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin for saying what he said after Saturday's game. A recent tweet by Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell -- "we legitimately lost ONE game this year...and that was Notre Dame! The black & white team beat us 4 times" -- was ridiculous, but like McGloin, he's a player expressing frustration after an emotional loss. They sound like fans. But their implication that something bigger involved just doesn't hold water.

I've gotten to know Bill Carollo fairly well since he took the job in 2009. In 2010, I spent a Saturday with him in the Big Ten's television command center. Carollo, Delany and other league officials -- as well as college and NFL officials not working games -- spend their Saturdays there, watching all the games involving Big Ten teams. Carollo takes note of all key officiating decisions, especially those involving replay, and reviews them later during his evaluations for each crew (on-field and replay). Coaches send in plays to be reviewed every week. Carollo takes his job very seriously, and he holds his crews to an extremely high standard.

Here's what he told me about replay in June 2010:
"Our expectations on replay are really quite high. They're as high or higher than the NFL's, as far as how accurate do we expect our replay people to be. We're talking 99 plus percent that we need to be right. There's humans and there's mistakes and there's technology problems and pressure. We want to be 99 plus percent accurate. We don't want to make mistakes in replay. We have a little more forgiveness if we miss a call on the field because you've been screened out or you don't see the right player."

The Big Ten doesn't comment publicly on specific officiating decisions, although I made requests following the Penn State-Nebraska game. But Carollo evaluates his crews after every game (on-field and replay). The good crews stay on the bigger games and the ones who make mistakes typically disappear. Unless he saw something the rest of us didn't on the Lehman play, there should be consequences for those replay officials.

The officiating needs to improve around the league. Pass interference calls, in particular, which have sparked complaints from multiple coaches, must become a point of emphasis going forward.

The evaluations should and will continue. The conspiracy theories should not.

Know your 2012 rule changes

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
10:00
AM ET
A new college football season kicks off on Thursday, and before you settle in for a long weekend of Big Ten action, you should know some of the new rules for the 2012 season. Here's an overview of some of the changes:

1. Kickoffs/Punts. You probably already know about this one. Kickoffs will be moving to the 35-yard line, and a touchback will give the ball to the offense at the 25 instead of the 20. Receiving teams can also call for a fair catch on onside/squib kicks on the first bounce, and if so the kicking team can not make contact until the ball hits the ground twice.

On punts, defenders can no longer try to jump over the punt shield blockers, or they will be flagged for a personal foul.

The goal of both rules is to reduce head injuries. The hope is that some of the high-speed collisions on kickoffs will be avoided and that players going for onside kicks aren't barreled over. The punt rule has two objectives.

"Going over the top of the punt protector and landing on top of them, it’s not only the people that are blocking going high, it’s the guy who’s actually trying to block the kick," Big Ten coordinator of officials Bill Carollo said earlier this summer. "He’s getting flipped over in mid-air and landing on his neck, and that’s a very dangerous play."

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Dave WeaverNebraska return man Ameer Abdullah could be contained a bit with the rule changes for kickoffs this season.
Kickoff strategy -- namely whether teams try to pin opponents with kicks just outside the goal line or whether receivers decide more frequently to take the touchback because of the extra five yards -- will be very interesting to watch in Week 1. Teams with great kickoff returners -- like Purdue's Raheem Mostert, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire -- may see those weapons neutralized a bit.

"It may be an 'ooh and ah' play for the fans," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "but at the end of the day, as someone who covered kicks and has been on kickoff return teams and had his lips knocked off, I'd much rather be playing under the current rules."

2. Helmets coming off: This is the rule change that could prove the most controversial.


If a player loses his helmet on a play this year, he must exit the game for the following play. The lone exception here is if his helmet is removed as part of a penalty such as a facemask. All plays where a ball carrier's helmet comes off will be whistled dead immediately. Anybody else on the field who loses his helmet during the course of a play must take himself out of the action immediately or risk a personal foul penalty.

Safety is, of course, once again the goal here, and Carollo said the Big Ten had one game alone where 25 helmets came off.

"The whole premise behind that was to make our players buckle up and make those helmets more secure and more safety driven," said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who served on the rules committee that came up with the changes.

There could be some unintended consequences, however. The new rule states that there will be a 10-second runoff if a ball carrier's helmet comes off in the final minute of either half. So if that happens and there are fewer than 10 seconds left, it could end the game.

"I'm not quite sure this is a great rule," Fitzgerald said. "If a game goes down to the wire and you lose a game because a kid's helmet comes off? Wait for that firestorm."
Or what if players intentionally try to knock off opponents' helmets to gain an advantage? Bielema said he's educated his players to grab hold of their helmets and pull them down if they start to feel loose. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he used to allow players to unbuckle their helmets at times but now insists they always keep them tight.


Just be ready to see a star player have to come out of a game or take himself out of a crucial play because of a helmet malfunction. Bielema said he understands there are some objections to the rule.


"But when you talk about the health and well being of an 18- to 22-year-old who's got his whole life in front of him, nothing is more important," he said.


3. Low blocks: Blocking below the waist is now mostly prohibited with very few exceptions.

Linemen must be within seven yards of the snapper to block low, while backs in the backfield are allowed to do so within the tackle box. All other low blocks are prohibited. So you won't see a receiver taking out a cornerback's knees or linemen going downfield and going low on a run block.

"Our number one emphasis was high hits and defenseless players and concussions," Carollo said. "Well, low hits are just as dangerous, so we’ve changed a few things."

Make sure you know all of the rules changes before football starts Thursday.

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