Big Ten: Carollo interview 10

Here's the second half of my interview with Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials Bill Carollo. Don't forget to check out Part I.

How did the officials grade in the five areas of focus?

Bill Carollo: We did a pretty good job on pass interference and helmet-to-helmet hits. Those two areas were in our focus areas. We're right about 95 percent of the time when we throw the flag. It's 5 percent that we're incorrect when we throw the flag, and then there's areas when we don't throw the flag and we should have. Maybe that's another 10-15 percent in some of these major categories. So we're trying to get everyone to a certain performance level that the coaches expect. There could be a mistake or two. We pray that it's not a game-deciding penalty. We just don't want to guess. So if they are only 90 percent sure, it looks like maybe it's [a penalty], we tell them, 'Don't throw it. Be 100 percent sure, and if you aren't sure, just keep the flag in your pocket.' Because guessing, at best you're going to be 50 percent because you don't have all the facts. You see the tail end of a play and you think it's a low block, it's a side block, a crack-back [block], and then when you back and see the whole thing, the guy turned on him, he was pushed into him, there's reasons why he ended up there. So let it go.

Three weeks in a row, you handed out discipline for on-field conduct. What type of message did that send, and how was it received around the league?

BC: Helmet-to-helmet and player safety is probably our No. 1 area that we focused on as coaches and as officials. Because the focus should be on the player. We had some situations that we did obviously take some disciplinary action on certain plays. The conference makes that decision on Monday. I tracked all of our unnecessary roughness fouls, and we called them early in the year, and we told the coaches we were going to continue to call them. And if we get only nine out of 10 right and we missed one and we did throw the flag for player safety, I can live with that. I don't like it. I want to be 100 percent [accurate], but the reality is we saw less helmet-to-helmet hits as the season went. We tracked them by week, all 13 weeks. And our accuracy [in calling the fouls] has gone up. Part of it has to do with some of the training, reinforcing those areas. At the same time, talking to the coaches and saying, 'Coach, that's a foul, and here's the reason why it's a foul, and we're going to continue to call it, so you need to tell the players not to lead with the helmet, don't use the crown of the helmet, don't try to punish, even though you're trying to make a play. And if it's close, you'll probably get a flag.' I'm telling our guys, 'Clean that up,' and we did. So I think the results were very good.

I had athletic directors and coaches disappointed in some of the discipline we did take, and they didn't always agree, but I was comfortable that what we were doing is the right thing, and that's what the NCAA wants. And they knew we were going to continue to throw the flag.

Two of those incidents [Jonas Mouton's punch and Zach Reckman's late hit] were either after a game or after a play. Did you see a reduction in those situations?

BC: It's the same thing. They need to control themselves, and coaches need to control their players. The game is over. The play is over. And we didn't throw a flag on one of those [Mouton vs. Notre Dame]. Any time there is a punch, the rule book's pretty clear. That's automatic. If you don't throw a guy out for throwing a punch, when do you? That's pretty clear. No one likes it. I don't like disciplining the players, especially when they're trying to make a play, a football play. When the play's over and it's not a football play, they don't get as much of a break from me. That's control. That's player discipline.

Now it seems like everyone has a camera and anything that happens will find its way to the Big Ten office. How has that changed during your time as an official?

BC: Dick Butkus used to use a clothesline and that was a great play and it makes the highlights. The game is changing from when I played in the '70s, from when the [Big Ten] coaches played in the '80s or '90s. The game is evolving and changing, and we need to keep changing with it, officials and coaches. And what was just a great football play before is [now] clearly a foul, and it might be discipline for the following game, not just a great highlight. So it's changing, and officials have to spend more time in the spring with the teams and the coaches, and in August, to learn how the game is evolving from a speed standpoint, the techniques that they're doing, the blocking. Understanding the different formations, whether it's the Wildcat, spread offenses, spread-punt formation, whatever it may be. Now there's a lot more options, a lot of things happen, so the officials have to understand the game better than they did when I was working. The officials are better today than when I was in [the Big Ten], but we're demanding even more because the demands and the expectations, because of video, because of television, because there's a camera everywhere, because there's exposure, because of the big stage of the Big Ten, we're putting more pressure than when I was an official in this league 25 years ago.

Any rules changes?

BC: Last year, they decided that we're going to change the rules every other year, which meant last year we received some rule changes, but this year, we should not receive any. And then going into the 2011 season, we'll have changes. However, if it's a safety factor, they can make the exception, and we did that. We took the wedge blocking on kickoffs -- even though it should be waiting till 2011 -- and there's some other rules out there for taunting that we made changes to but won't take effect until '11. But the wedge blocking -- the NFL made the change -- we looked at the numbers, how that affects the game, looked at injuries, and then also looked at how often it happens in the Big Ten. And we've made a decision that we should change the rule this year.

So you can have two players forming the wedge, but once you get to three stationary players forming that wedge a couple yards apart, it'll be a live-ball foul. And that's good. We said you can't low block. Well, once in a while, to get rid of three people, they would throw a low block, break a couple legs in the process, maybe even the guy throwing the block gets injured himself, and it was an area we didn't always catch. So we took at it and said, 'You know what? Let's just get rid of the wedge.' Because then there won't be people low blocking. So I think it's a good change.
As a former longtime NFL official, Bill Carollo knows what it's like to be evaluated (read: booed) by 70,000 people every Sunday. Safe to say, he's not intimidated by 11 football coaches. Carollo recently completed his first year as the Big Ten's Coordinator of Football Officials, and he continues to strive for open communication, feedback and evaluation from the league's coaches, a group not afraid to sound off on officiating matters. It was an interesting 2009 season for the men in stripes, the men in the replay booth and the men handing out discipline the Monday after games. There was some good and some bad, but Carollo demands improvement in 2010.

He recently took some time to review Year 1 and some of the changes to Big Ten officiating in the future.

How did the first year go?

Bill Carollo: I tried to look at the big picture and review the last couple seasons as far as officiating is concerned: what things we did right and what things we need to improve on. I looked at the 10 most common fouls, and of those 10 most common, where do we need the most work. So I took five areas of the game that I focused our training program on. You can't bring in lots of change and get the results I'm looking for, but if we focus on a few areas that really affect the game: offensive holding, offensive pass interference, helmet-to-helmet hits, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct, which we're trying to clean up, and special teams play. Those five basic areas are the ones I thought we could use some additional focus and training. We weren't terrible at it, but we needed to improve.

We measure everything. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad. But we measure all the types of calls and we look at the most common fouls, the big-ticket items like taking away a touchdown on a holding play. What did you see? What was it? Was it a hook? Was it a turn? Was it a restriction? Go a little deeper into it. So we're trying to take some training and make sure that we get consistent calls. This is more of an art than a science. The guys can memorize the rules and know the definition of holding, but do you want to call it on the last play of the game and take away the winning touchdown? You want to make sure it's a big-time throwdown.

We're trying to show them not just, 'This is a foul, this is not a foul,' but why this is a foul and why this is not a foul. The why aspect of officiating has been helpful. And then with the coaches, I gave them areas I thought we should focus on, and then we worked on them throughout the season. We did training tapes every week and tried to reinforce some of the things we said in our clinics and our offseason training. Then I asked the coaches to grade me, grade the staff, in the focus areas. How did we do? My training in business is, if we don't measure something, we can't improve it. What does it mean that we had a pretty good year last year? Based on what facts? Let's look at the stuff that makes a difference.

And how did the coaches grade you?

BC: I asked them to grade me 1 through 5 on these five categories, and I said, 'Just be honest. My feelings aren't hurt. I've been booed by a lot of people.' In some areas like communication and professionalism, I think we've made some major improvements. The consistency and the overall performance of our calls got a slight uptick. The coaches know. They understand the game. They're the closest to it, they know what the game should look like. And they may be emotional Sunday morning after a game or a tough loss about one call, but you step back after a few months and I get a pretty good perspective [from them]. Just tell me where we're weak. They didn't grade the officials -- we grade them, we hire them and we fire them -- but they certainly understand the game, and we can learn a lot as officials from listening to coaches and what they feel are problem areas. We're doing this together, that's what I told the coaches. It's not us against you. It's how we can improve the game. That's where our focus can be.

What were some of their concerns?

BC: We put a lot of focus on helmet-to-helmet hits. That's not going away. Was it helmet-to-helmet? Was it intentional? Should there be discipline on Monday after the commissioner [Jim Delany] and I look at the video? They came to the conclusion that this is really a tough call. [They said] 'I know we're in it for the safety of the players, but maybe that should be part of instant replay. Maybe we should go back and see if he really got him helmet-to-helmet. Was it really intentional? Was it the top of his helmet? Did it slide up?' So they're trying to get it right, just like we are, but opening up judgment calls to replay probably is not going to happen, at least for now. Not every call is going to be reviewable.

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.

How did you feel about instant replay last year?

BC: I'm a big proponent and supporter of replay. Replay is not going away. It will get bigger and be a more important part of the game. We had a couple glitches in replay. You're talking 160 plays [per game] and 88 conference games. You can do the math and of those thousands of plays, there were probably four or five plays I'd love to get back as far as replay [Note: The Big Ten doesn't comment on specific officiating rulings]. They were big-ticket items, changes of possessions, momentum changes in the game that we didn't handle as well as we'd like. A couple of them we got right, but we took four minutes [to do so]. If it's not indisputable video evidence and we don't follow that process in the replay booth, we're making a mistake. We take four or five minutes to look at a play, it's too long. We should make our decision in 1-2 minutes, make that announcement and get out there. And if it's that obvious of a mistake and it's a big-ticket item -- a change of possession, a scoring play -- we should be stopping it, looking at it, and with the right technology and the right training, we should be able to improve on that.

Could we have done a little bit better? Yeah. I did not give an A-plus to our replay team. By comparison around the country, we were pretty good. By our standards, we did not have our best year at replay. We've got some really good people helping us. Dean Blandino is the replay trainer and manager in the NFL, and he's putting together a training program. The key is having a consistent replay program across the country, not just with the Big Ten. So everyone calls it the same way. We're having some combined conference clinics on replay. We just had one in Kansas City with the Big 12, us and the Mid-American, and we opened it up to the country. We're going to host the national replay meeting here in Chicago in August, and we'll take two more days in advance of that meeting to do more training.

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