Bill Carollo spent 20 years as an official in the NFL. Now he takes over as the Big Ten's Coordinator of Football Officials. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Bill about his new gig and what we can expect from the Big Ten officials in 2009. Here is our conversation:
B5Q: Are there any points of emphasis among officials this season?
Carollo: Yeah there are a couple of ones that we are really stressing with the coaches as well as the players. And primarily it's three areas starting with unsportsmanlike conduct -- the taunting, the players getting in each others faces -- not physical, just things being said on the field. We are trying to clean that up so we are going to continue to work in that area harder than we have in the past.
Unneccessary roughness. We usually get most of them but now we have put more teeth in it and if it's an intentional helmet-to-helmet direct targeting hit to a defenseless player, not only will be it be a 15 yard penalty but you will be subject to ejection from that game. And if we miss it during the game -- because sometimes it happens so fast -- or even if we throw the flag, if we still think it should have been an ejection, the following Monday the Commissioner will decide if this player should sit out the following game. So that's the second area we are stressing to our officials.
Then we have a couple of rules that we have tweaked a little bit. As far as the rugby style kicker, has he lost his protection once he goes outside the tackle boxes? When he is running the ball, passing the ball and then at the last second he quick-kicks it and now the defender doesn't know what he can do. Is he a quarterback? Is he a kicker? Is he protected or not protected? So what we have done is taken that protection away. You still can't hit him in the head or commit a personal foul and if he's totally out of the play you can't tee off on the guy, but the reality is we have changed that rule and he has lost his protection once he starts running around with the ball.
And really the fourth is, linemen on pass plays can go down field up to three yards, where before they couldn't go past the line of scrimmage.
B5Q: Last year Bret Bielema was given a 15-yard penalty for a sideline warning at Michigan State at a critical part in the game. It's not something you see too often. Can you clear up some of the confusion regarding that rule and will we see it called more often in the future?
Carollo: Well I don't think it's a real problem at the college level. [Coaches] get excited between the lines, if you will, and in that three hour period coaches and officials put their game faces on.
But the rule itself -- there's a white area or border on the field and that's the officials area. It's not the coach's area. It's marked in white so you can stay off the white and stay back so they can run up and down the sideline. Because if they are running up and down the sideline covering a 40-yard pass down the sideline and they run into one of the coaches, it's a 15-yard penalty just for bumping into them, not even for saying anything. If he's just watching and he gets in the way and it prevents the official from getting in the right position, it's going to be a foul.
I'm aware but not that familar with the exact details that you referred to, but it's not a problem in the Big Ten and it could have been something that was said that was inappropriate or it got to the point where the official didn't want to get any more help.
We train our guys to have good sideline discussions with the coaches and to build those relationships with the coaches and be helpful for the coaches. So I don't think it's a problem. That was one of several thousands calls last year that we've looked at and gone through and put it in a category and this and that, but it's not an issue as far as I'm concerned or even a point of emphasis. I think the relationship and the points of communication that we are trying to make with the coaches continues to get better.
Is there a lot of pressure on the coaches? You bet. Do we make mistakes and they have every right to get upset? Yes. But you have to do it in a professional matter, whether you are the coach or the official. If it was reversed and my guy was out of line -- I've told all the coaches, "I want you to call me on my cell phone." If our coaches come to me and tell me that our men on the sideline, during the game, were unprofessional, I want to hear about that too because that only leads to more problems. Now both guys are arguing.
Our job is to solve problems in the game, give them a fair game, and when something comes up, help solve the problem. Don't try to throw more gasoline on the fire.
B5Q: As far as instant replay goes, do you prefer the NFL or college version?
Carollo: Well they both work and you can try to skin the cat a couple of different ways. The bottom line is, can we get the right call? So there are some aspects of the college replay that is very good. I like that they can stop the game at any time. If we had a 170 plays, we could stop it 170 times, which would be ludicrous and hopefully the officials wouldn't make that many mistakes.
In the pros, the coaches have timeouts and they have challenges and they have conditions under whether they should or should not stop it. And under two minutes we can stop it at any time. So it's kind of a blend of the good things and the NCAA has taken the ability to stop and look at every single play because they want to get every single play right, so that's the good news.
I actually like the idea of the official on the field having the chance to look at [the play] so he is in better shape to make the announcement of what happened and why we are changing the play. But still, the decision is made upstairs by the replay person. And that's the way it is in the NFL. They come together, they collaborate and then the referee makes that decision. The decision in college is clearly made by the guy upstairs and he's the only one that can see it. And sometimes two sets of eyes is better than one set of eyes, but that's something they may look at down the road.
If run properly and properly trained, both will probably get you to the same spot.
B5Q: One issue that comes up with the college replay is coaches sometimes getting upset when they are waiting for a review from upstairs and they have to burn a timeout...
Carollo: Yeah they are sometimes in a quandry. They know that it's getting looked at but the guy is ready to snap the ball and [the coach] is sure that it wasn't a touchdown, or he's sure it was a fumble. But he doesn't know what the replay official can actually see and he wants to have proof to stop it. Or if he's not sure whether or not to stop it, he wants to let them search for a different angle.
So from that standpoint it's sometimes frustrating for the coach to not really know what the replay guy [is doing]. Is he really up there? Is he really looking at my play? Does he have a good angle to make this change? He has to trust that television is going give him the best video and T.V. does. But if [the replay official] doesn't change it then it's probably not the right angle or he has proof that it's the exact opposite, even though [the referee] saw it the other way on the field.
Of course the coach's position and angle on the field isn't always the best one either. T.V. might show you something different. So we're looking to get it right.
B5Q: What are you bringing from your experiences in the NFL to the Big Ten?
Carollo: Well I think we are on the big stage in the Big Ten and I think in my last 20 years -- I don't care what game it was in the NFL -- it was the big stage. And there's just a lot of great excitement about football in America, whether it is college or pro.
I just think being in that environment and being on the field and dealing with coaches with lots of pressure and lots of scrutiny is good if you want to get better. Some of the things I have learned as far as training, education, and handling situations under pressure is transferrable to my Big Ten staff. And of course I don't have my stripes on and can't do it myself and we have very capable officials that are very good, but I want them to take it to another level and give them the opportunity to get trained and get access to some of the video and training that we had in the NFL.
So we've incorporated a lot of technology and some similar things that we do and taken it to a whole different level in the Big Ten and I think you will see some results early this year.