Big Ten Coordinator of Officials Bill Carollo discusses getting rid of kickoffs, a potential replay command center and the psyche of a referee
Land of 10’s Matt Barbato sat down with Big Ten Coordinator of Officials Bill Carollo to discuss a variety of topics surrounding Big Ten officiating.
In the interview, Carollo gives his thoughts on whether the kickoff will become extinct in the near future, the planned changes for replay review and the possibility of moving all replays to a remote site command center. Carollo also digs into the mentality of his officials, who have become more susceptible to missed calls and public scrutiny than ever before.
Here is our conversation:
Matt Barbato (MB): The hot topic surrounding officiating in general is the future of the kickoff rule. Is the Big Ten looking into potentially altering the rule in the future?
Bill Carollo (BC): The kickoff rule is being looked at and I would say closely because we know it’s probably the No. 1 type of play that’s dangerous as far as players’ health and safety. So, that gets a lot of looks. We keep tweaking it. Moving it back, moving it forward, encourage them to take a knee, put the ball back at the 25-yard line. The NFL has done the same things.
I think it’s kind of an exciting play for the game, also. The onside kick is really exciting, the kickoff is exciting and both are somewhat dangerous. So we’ve put in some rules for targeting and not being able to block the first 10 yards to kind of protect those receivers so they don’t get blown up.
We’ve put a lot of controls in it and it still hasn’t fixed some of the injuries on the kickoffs. So the Ivy League was approved to do an experiment and move it from the 35 to the 40.
Will it ever get eliminated? I don’t know. I think it’s a little premature to say because there isn’t as much momentum. But we know it’s been identified as a problem area of the game as far as injury is concerned.
So you’ve got to gather the data, measure it and if it makes sense then we’ll make some adjustments to it. And ultimately, sometimes, maybe they throw the rule out and say ‘You know what, you just scored, so the other team’s going to get the ball at the 25-yard line. We’re starting from there.’
MB: Did you happen to hear (Minnesota) coach Tracy Claeys talking about the rule, saying that he wants to discuss some implementation of one-on-one blocking rules?
BC: Yeah. When you get people going full speed and not seeing them, they’re coming from different angles. It’s not like the two (offensive) guards pulling around and you know where the play is going and where people are coming from. I listened to coach’s comments and he’s probably on the same page as I am as far as ‘OK, let’s look at it, make sure we have the right data.’
You’re recruiting special teams players that can really put you in position, whether it’s the NFL or college football. Does that take away an opportunity for a certain type of player? Those crafty, speedy, little guys for kick returns. So then do you get rid of punts? You got to be a little careful.
We’re slowly making changes to all the low blocks. We’re trying to control it, we’re not quite there yet.
MB: As the head of officials you have a tough balancing act. You have to balance competitive balance, you have to balance rules and safety and you also have to balance the excitement of the game.
Whether it’s the targeting rule, or changing the kickoffs by modifying them to make them safer, how do you go about addressing rules with that balance of ‘We need to keep players safe and also ensure the sport is still exciting?’
BC: When you take a look at rule changes and something happens. Let’s say it’s something negative. There’s an injury so we’ll go, ‘Oh we’ll just get rid of that play. It’s a dangerous play.’ Then you start taking away the passing game, then you start taking away kicking, which makes up the game.
The game is not being played on their feet anymore. They’re in the air. They’re going full speed, they’re in the air, they’re making unbelievable catches and leaping over players. Compared to what they used to do, they’re just better athletes.
So it’s evolving and we’re just trying to stay up with it rule-wise. But many times you make a rule change and you don’t think through all the consequences of that change: How it changes the game, the excitement of the game, people are watching it, are they still going to watch? You’ve taken the fun out of the game, even though you’ve made it safer, people might not watch it if the game starts to fall.
That’s why it takes a couple years to change a rule. It isn’t just one thing happens, we throw it out. We have to try to make sure it’s still the game, technology doesn’t take over, the rules don’t take over. Lawsuits from player injuries are creeping into it.
So we have to take a look at everything. What makes the most sense for the good of the game. And I think we have the right people that care about the game. Don’t change the rule because it’ll help my team, change the rule because it’s going to make the game better.
That’s what you have to ask: Will the game be better with this change?
MB: One of the things that have made the game better is replay review. Are there any plans to modify how replay review is done in the Big Ten?
BC: Replay, in my opinion, is the best rule change in the last 50 years. Because the game has gotten so fast. It’s played by humans, it’s coached by humans and officiated by humans. With television and technology, when you sit at home you can see these plays in two or three frames per second. On the field, my officials see them 24 frames per second.
So technology shows we’ve made a lot of mistakes, where in the past you couldn’t prove it.
So the rules are changing in two areas. We’re giving more authority to the replay official up in the booth.
He can actually create the targeting foul if we miss it on the field. And when we do have a call, he analyzes the entire play. He can decide ‘Was he defenseless or not?’ And that’s really a big question. So they’re going to collaborate, they’re going to get together and they’re going to get it right. But the replay person in the booth is going to have a lot more authority to make that call, or reverse that call.
And then on the technology side, we’re looking at collaboration with the official on the field. The head referee and the replay official will get together and they’ll collaborate on all replays. So now we have two of our best people looking at the plays. Replay will still make the final decision.
And then the other thing is we’re looking at collaboration in a command center (from a) remote site, should all the replays go to a command center. There’s multiple people looking at that trying to get that right. I’m not sure if we’re quite there yet, but we’re going to test that just to see if it makes sense.
MB: One last question for you. Technology has made the game better, but it’s also made your officials a bit more susceptible to missed calls and criticism. With such a shift to replay, where on every play every fan at home can pretty much see if it’s a bad call, how do you help your officials cope with the criticism that’s naturally going to come their way?
BC: The best officials keep moving and, under pressure, make the right decisions most of the time. They don’t have perfect careers, perfect games, perfect anything. But they have to be mentally tough. Mechanics are really important, getting in the right spot, being physically fit, understanding the rules, not thinking about it, actually knowing it on the spot, under pressure, making those decisions is important.
But you also have to be mentally tough because you’re going to hear the crowd booing, you’re going to see a replay in the stadium. You think it’s a 50/50 play and the coach is screaming. You only have one set of eyes and one angle to look at it to make the call, where television has 10, 12 maybe 14, 15 cameras, multiple angles. You just can’t see through two bodies to find out “Did the ball skip? It looked like it skipped, it was moving so it went incomplete.”
You have to call what you actually see and if you don’t see it, there’s some axioms, there’s some philosophies. If you’re not really sure, make it a fumble so replay can fix it.
There’s some things that we officiate in conjunction with replay as kind of an insurance policy for us. But when you see it, you call it. You can’t say “Well, let replay call it.” You always have to make that call.
And when it’s bang-bang, tough, tight calls, I don’t downgrade the guy. It’s wrong, but I don’t fire him because you missed his little toe-tap on the sideline and only technology can show that he actually got it in.
You’ve got to be mentally tough and that’s a big part of our training in the offseason. Trying to get them into a position where mentally that they can win.