CHICAGO -- After fielding questions about the NCAA's new targeting policy for two hours, Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo nearly escaped the interview area Thursday morning when a former Ohio State safety tracked him down.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini shook Carollo's hand and joked that he, too, was tired of talking about targeting. Pelini remains a bit peeved about the targeting penalty called on Huskers receiver Kenny Bell in last year's Big Ten championship game.
All this targeting talk isn't a bad thing. It's a topic that merits attention from now until the start of the 2013 season, mainly because of the new consequences when a defenseless player is targeted above the shoulders.
Starting this season, players guilty of the foul will be ejected from games. On-field officials and replay officials must both agree before a player is disqualified.
"They might want to be on 'SportsCenter' for a big hit, but you're not going to be on 'SportsCenter' when you're sitting in the locker room," Carollo told ESPN.com. "As long as that consistent message gets to the players through the coaches, I don't think the game is going to change a whole lot."
The ejection penalty, spurred by the increasing focus on head injuries in football, is a game-changer of sorts. While the targeting rule itself doesn't change entering the season, it will be a focal point when training camps kick off next month.
It was a major topic of discussion this week at Big Ten media days.
Here's a sampling of comments:
Nebraska's Pelini: "I don’t think it’s an easy thing to call. And in my opinion it’s going a little bit overboard right now. And some things I’ve seen on TV and different examples that they’ve shown, you know, like even as a coach watching it on TV, I haven’t quite agreed with some of the things they’ve talked about. But I understand where it’s coming from. It’s about the safety of the players, and we're all for that. We just have to make sure that we’re not messing with the integrity of the game or the sport and how it’s supposed to be played."
Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman: "Me being [6-foot-6] and going full speed at a running back who's like 5-7, that's hard. And you have to understand that. I'm not trying to go head-to-head with somebody. But I feel like I have to fix my game a little bit. It's a new rule for our safety, so I can't hate on it. But it's kind of difficult when you're 6-6 and you go out at a running back or a quarterback. If I knock off somebody's helmet, now I'm going to get ejected? That's crazy."
Indiana safety Greg Heban: "If that's the decision they're going to make, then that's what they're going to make. It's going to be something kind of different for us, and we have to realize when we go to hit, we have to kind of think about what we're going to hit instead of just attacking."
Carollo met with the Big Ten coaches in February and showed them about a dozen potential targeting fouls from the 2012 season. He also told them the NCAA playing rules oversight panel likely would approve ejections for the most egregious offenders. Carollo spent the spring and early summer educating his officials on the rule.
The focus now turns to players as the season approaches.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," Carollo said. "We have a plan in place that we'll get to every team, whether it's myself or a head referee or senior official. The same information that we gave our officials, the same message is going to the coaching staffs, and if there's a need, we'll take it to the players ourselves and spend a couple hours showing plays."
Michigan State All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough said the Spartans' defense hasn't discussed the targeting policies yet as a group. He didn't know much about the increased penalties until he came to media days.
"It's not something you do on purpose," Bullough said. "If something like that happens, it's an accident, anyway, so there's nothing you can do about it. Whether they penalize you or eject you, there's nothing different you can do. It happens so fast. The rules they make are a little bit ridiculous.
"What, are you just going to stop and think? What are you going to do when a running back puts his head down? It's just too hard."
When informed of Bullough's concerns, Carollo acknowledged that it's difficult to change course or angle at full speed.
"I'm not asking you to adjust in midair," he said. "I'm asking you to adjust in June, July, August. I'm not asking you to change the way you teach players how to make tackles. I'm asking them, don't launch and lead with your head, keep your head up, move it to the side, wrap up with your arms, put a shoulder into [the opponent's] chest, hit 'em as hard as you want, but don't hit them in the head."
The much-publicized Jadeveon Clowney hit against Michigan's Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl, while vicious, was a legal play because Clowney didn't target Smith's head, Carollo said.
Although the coaches aren't in total agreement about the rule and its heavy consequences -- Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald this week proposed a soccer-style approach with a warning (yellow card) for the first offense and an ejection (red card) for the second -- they all want to protect players. But Carollo thinks the number of targeting fouls will drop "once they start losing players."
"The good coaches will get out ahead of it," he said. "Some coaches that don't totally buy into it, if [their players] don't make changes, that's fine, but they're subject to greater risk of not playing. It might take a year. It might take our officials another year to really perfect this call.
"It's a severe penalty, but I don't think it's too harsh. The intent was to make it immediate, and raise the stakes a little bit to get attention and change players' behavior."