- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.