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Every college football season brings a round of new rules. This year, perhaps the hottest topic is "collaborative" replay.
Earlier this year, the NCAA football rules committee allowed conferences to experiment with a collaborative replay system. The SEC will have a centralized command center to assist in-stadium crews on all replay reviews this fall.
In the Big Ten, it will work like this: When there’s a review, the referee will be handed a computer tablet so he can watch the same replays that the officials in the in-stadium booth are seeing. According to Bill Carollo, the Big Ten’s coordinator of football officials, on-field officials will observe the video and offer input, but the replay official will have the final say.
In a discussion about illegal man downfield penalties, Carollo said, “It was suggested that we make it a reviewable play. That didn’t pass, with hurry-up offenses, we’re looking at five linemen downfield and is it a catch, is it a score, did he fumble the ball? Too much, too much to look at.
“Replay isn’t there to fix everything, so I don’t want to keep expanding it because we’ll have 10 people in the replay booth looking at every aspect of every guy on both sides of the ball. I think replay is the best technology, best rule change we’ve had in 50 years. It’s fixed the big-ticket items that we’ve missed on the field.
“It keeps expanding because people wonder, ‘If you know it on video, why don’t you change it?’ It’s timing in the game, too.”
Last season in the Big Ten, Carollo said, a total of 17,762 plays were subject to replay. Of those, 225 plays resulted in a stoppage of play for a review. Calls were reversed 34 percent of the time.
Is this the entry for collaborative replay to be involved in everything?
“I’m a big opponent of that,” Carollo said. “I like the decisions to be made by the trained officials on the field, and we’re going to have five or six mistakes. Maybe, we can get to four, if we’re really good. We all make mistakes.
“... It opens up a Pandora’s box. You can always find something. If you see a backside hold, yes, technically, it was a penalty, but they ran around the other side. He has no chance to make that play, but technically, it was a foul. You have to have good common sense as officials. Don’t get so technical.”
There is a flow to the game, Carollo said.
“Sometimes, there are 24 flags and they probably deserved them. Other times, there might be eight flags. The average is around 13 or 14 across the country, it’s a pretty good feel. I don’t want replay to go out searching for five more targeting calls because they have the power to stop the game. It has to be egregious, they have to really jump out.”
Carollo grades B1G officials on “game management” and part of that is pace of play.
“Sometimes, it’s choppy,” Carollo said. “Second play of the game and we’ve got a holding and there are penalties throughout. Some things are out of their control. I grade my officials on what they can control. What flag they threw. What flag they didn’t throw.”
Replay officials do have the power this year to call targeting penalties that aren’t called on the field. Up to this year, the replay official’s role has been to verify whether the forcible contact was with the crown of the helmet or was struck at the head or neck area of a defenseless player. Now as part of the review, the replay official is directed to examine all elements of the ruling made by the official on the field, not only the location of the forcible contact.
When it comes to targeting, it’s all hands on deck. Last season in the Big Ten, 21 targeting penalties were called and nine were reversed after replay.
Carollo believes the targeting call is working.
“We’ve taken out the SportsCenter top 10 hits of the week,” Carollo said. “We used to show these and they would get away with it. Everyone would love watching them except for the kid who got hit. ... The answer is yes, we’re making progress.”
— How about all that holding?
Carollo reviews numbers and trends at the end of every season. One recent sticking point was holding, so he brought in Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz to speak to officials. This opens dialogue on points of emphasis and what coaches are teaching players.
Holding is a popular Monday morning tape question from coaches. Does the penalty have an impact on the play? Officials definitely weigh this.
“A lot of coaches ask, ‘What should I tell my players, you guys didn’t call it? Is that holding?’” Carollo said. “Well, yes it is, but we look the other way because it didn’t have an impact on the play.”
Carollo is in his eighth season with the Big Ten. He said in his first four or five seasons the Big Ten was lower than the national average in holding calls.
“I said I can get that up there,” Carollo said. “We all know there are four or five on each team that we could justify. We were at about 1.2 or 1.5 fewer holding calls than the national average. Is that where we want to be? Coaches liked where we were at. They were comfortable.”
— How about all those offensive linemen blocking downfield on pass plays?
Run-pass option plays are the rage in college football. Coaches want to give quarterbacks freedom to read and make post-snap decisions. This is a bigger thing with read-option offenses, where the QB carries the ball in the running back’s belly for a few strides and then pulls it and runs or pulls and drops back for a pass.
Offensive linemen don’t know if it’s a run or pass, so sometimes they get caught blocking downfield during a pass play, which is a penalty.
This year, the Big Ten will allow O-linemen to be 3 yards downfield on pass plays.
“If you’re downfield 3 yards and an inch, you will be called this year,” Carollo said. “If you’re downfield, we’re going to call it. We want to tighten that up.”
— For the first time ever, coaches can now be ejected.
Players who have been called for two unsportsmanlike penalties during games have been ejected from games for years. That’s the rule. Coaches haven’t been held to that standard until this season.
A coach who commits two fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct will be disqualified. He must leave the playing field before the ball is next put into play, and he must remain out of view of the playing field for the remainder of the game.
Will it happen? Probably not.
“Our Big Ten coaches are professional, they respect the game and they respect my officials,” Carollo said. “I’ve given them (officials) the speech. You have it in your backpocket. I don’t expect to see it.”
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