Big Ten sends message with discipline

CHICAGO -- The Big Ten came down hard on player conduct last season, suspending three players in as many weeks for various on-field actions.

  • Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton was suspended for punching Notre Dame center Eric Olsen following a play in a September game. No penalty was called on the field, but the Big Ten disciplined Mouton after reviewing film of the game.

  • A week later, the league suspended Purdue offensive lineman Zach Reckman for a late hit on a Northern Illinois player at the end of the Boilermakers' loss to the Huskies. Purdue originally suspended Reckman for a quarter, but the league lengthened it to an entire game.

  • Finally, the Big Ten suspended Ohio State safety and co-captain Kurt Coleman for a game following a helmet-to-helmet hit against Illinois' Eddie McGee during a game in Columbus. Coleman was called for a personal foul on the play.

Did the league's hard-line stance on conduct send a message? Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials Bill Carollo thinks so.

"I'm telling our guys, 'Clean that up,' and we did," Carollo said. "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. It needed to be cleaned up, and [coaches] knew we were going to continue to throw the flag."

Officials throughout college football cracked down on helmet-to-helmet hits last season, and Carollo saw a reduction in the Big Ten. He also tracked unnecessary roughness fouls, both the ones called and the ones missed.

The accuracy of calls also increased, which Carollo attributes to officials' increased awareness as well as coaches being more mindful of what would be called.

"If you don't throw a guy out for throwing a punch, when do you?" Carollo said. "That's pretty clear. 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."

The changing environment for media and technology also factors into how the league handles player conduct. Carollo and his staff aren't the only ones breaking down game film, and even if a flag isn't thrown on game day, they'll eventually find out about any questionable incidents.

"Dick Butkus used to use a clothesline and that was a great play and it makes the highlights," said Carollo, who discussed the league's response with coaches this week at Big Ten spring meetings. "The game is changing from when I played in the 70s, from when the coaches played in the 80s or 90s. The game is evolving and changing, and we need to keep changing with, officials and coaches.

"What was just a great football play before is [now] clearly a foul, and it might be discipline for the following game."