- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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."
1dJosh Moyer and Tom VanHaaren