Big Ten Q&A: Bill Carollo, Part I

As a former longtime NFL official, Bill Carollo knows what it's like to be evaluated (read: booed) by 70,000 people every Sunday. Safe to say, he's not intimidated by 11 football coaches. Carollo recently completed his first year as the Big Ten's Coordinator of Football Officials, and he continues to strive for open communication, feedback and evaluation from the league's coaches, a group not afraid to sound off on officiating matters. It was an interesting 2009 season for the men in stripes, the men in the replay booth and the men handing out discipline the Monday after games. There was some good and some bad, but Carollo demands improvement in 2010.

He recently took some time to review Year 1 and some of the changes to Big Ten officiating in the future.

How did the first year go?

Bill Carollo: I tried to look at the big picture and review the last couple seasons as far as officiating is concerned: what things we did right and what things we need to improve on. I looked at the 10 most common fouls, and of those 10 most common, where do we need the most work. So I took five areas of the game that I focused our training program on. You can't bring in lots of change and get the results I'm looking for, but if we focus on a few areas that really affect the game: offensive holding, offensive pass interference, helmet-to-helmet hits, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct, which we're trying to clean up, and special teams play. Those five basic areas are the ones I thought we could use some additional focus and training. We weren't terrible at it, but we needed to improve.

We measure everything. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad. But we measure all the types of calls and we look at the most common fouls, the big-ticket items like taking away a touchdown on a holding play. What did you see? What was it? Was it a hook? Was it a turn? Was it a restriction? Go a little deeper into it. So we're trying to take some training and make sure that we get consistent calls. This is more of an art than a science. The guys can memorize the rules and know the definition of holding, but do you want to call it on the last play of the game and take away the winning touchdown? You want to make sure it's a big-time throwdown.

We're trying to show them not just, 'This is a foul, this is not a foul,' but why this is a foul and why this is not a foul. The why aspect of officiating has been helpful. And then with the coaches, I gave them areas I thought we should focus on, and then we worked on them throughout the season. We did training tapes every week and tried to reinforce some of the things we said in our clinics and our offseason training. Then I asked the coaches to grade me, grade the staff, in the focus areas. How did we do? My training in business is, if we don't measure something, we can't improve it. What does it mean that we had a pretty good year last year? Based on what facts? Let's look at the stuff that makes a difference.

And how did the coaches grade you?

BC: I asked them to grade me 1 through 5 on these five categories, and I said, 'Just be honest. My feelings aren't hurt. I've been booed by a lot of people.' In some areas like communication and professionalism, I think we've made some major improvements. The consistency and the overall performance of our calls got a slight uptick. The coaches know. They understand the game. They're the closest to it, they know what the game should look like. And they may be emotional Sunday morning after a game or a tough loss about one call, but you step back after a few months and I get a pretty good perspective [from them]. Just tell me where we're weak. They didn't grade the officials -- we grade them, we hire them and we fire them -- but they certainly understand the game, and we can learn a lot as officials from listening to coaches and what they feel are problem areas. We're doing this together, that's what I told the coaches. It's not us against you. It's how we can improve the game. That's where our focus can be.

What were some of their concerns?

BC: We put a lot of focus on helmet-to-helmet hits. That's not going away. Was it helmet-to-helmet? Was it intentional? Should there be discipline on Monday after the commissioner [Jim Delany] and I look at the video? They came to the conclusion that this is really a tough call. [They said] 'I know we're in it for the safety of the players, but maybe that should be part of instant replay. Maybe we should go back and see if he really got him helmet-to-helmet. Was it really intentional? Was it the top of his helmet? Did it slide up?' So they're trying to get it right, just like we are, but opening up judgment calls to replay probably is not going to happen, at least for now. Not every call is going to be reviewable.

Our expectations on replay are really quite high. They're as high or higher than the NFL's, as far as how accurate do we expect our replay people to be. We're talking 99 plus percent that we need to be right. There's humans and there's mistakes and there's technology problems and pressure. We want to be 99 plus percent accurate. We don't want to make mistakes in replay. We have a little more forgiveness if we miss a call on the field because you've been screened out or you don't see the right player.

How did you feel about instant replay last year?

BC: I'm a big proponent and supporter of replay. Replay is not going away. It will get bigger and be a more important part of the game. We had a couple glitches in replay. You're talking 160 plays [per game] and 88 conference games. You can do the math and of those thousands of plays, there were probably four or five plays I'd love to get back as far as replay [Note: The Big Ten doesn't comment on specific officiating rulings]. They were big-ticket items, changes of possessions, momentum changes in the game that we didn't handle as well as we'd like. A couple of them we got right, but we took four minutes [to do so]. If it's not indisputable video evidence and we don't follow that process in the replay booth, we're making a mistake. We take four or five minutes to look at a play, it's too long. We should make our decision in 1-2 minutes, make that announcement and get out there. And if it's that obvious of a mistake and it's a big-ticket item -- a change of possession, a scoring play -- we should be stopping it, looking at it, and with the right technology and the right training, we should be able to improve on that.

Could we have done a little bit better? Yeah. I did not give an A-plus to our replay team. By comparison around the country, we were pretty good. By our standards, we did not have our best year at replay. We've got some really good people helping us. Dean Blandino is the replay trainer and manager in the NFL, and he's putting together a training program. The key is having a consistent replay program across the country, not just with the Big Ten. So everyone calls it the same way. We're having some combined conference clinics on replay. We just had one in Kansas City with the Big 12, us and the Mid-American, and we opened it up to the country. We're going to host the national replay meeting here in Chicago in August, and we'll take two more days in advance of that meeting to do more training.