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Big Ten offers some info on officiating, but still not enough transparency

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.


The officiating in ‘The Game’ between Michigan and Ohio State this year definitely left some college football fans scratching a temple. Never mind the outcome of the game, I was left wondering afterwards why some of the officials were picked to participate given the possible complications because of where they live. Furthermore, the head official was suspended by the Big Ten years ago, yet, was back at the helm for this important game. Some clarification was provided recently as the Chicago Tribune was granted an interview with Bill Carollo.

Carollo holds the office of Coordinator of Football Officials for the Big Ten and he shed some light on officiating in a three-hour interview. The article is quite lengthy and only contains a few direct quotes from Carollo. Most of the piece appears to be paraphrasing by the Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein.

The first topic of discussion was Carollo’s defense of Big Ten officials.

Ever wondered how many plays occur in a Big Ten football season? With 10 bowl games to go, we’re at 19,057 — 179.8 per game. That’s a lot of opportunities to mess up.

“There are only two things that are perfect,” Carollo says. “Your mother and your maker. We’re human. We make mistakes.”
Carollo also tells coaches: “The toughest job on the field belongs to the quarterback. The second-toughest — the officials.”

Thank you, Mr. Carollo. No one intimated that being a referee was easy. So, let’s get to the real issues.

Are referees are graded? How is their performance evaluated?

After an independent evaluator (NFL ref) grades every play, the head referee reviews it with Jerry Markbreit, a veteran of 43 seasons and four Super Bowls, or Dean Blandino, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating. Carollo, a former NFL (two Super Bowls) and Big Ten official, breaks any ties.

The calls are graded on a scale of 0 to 7. Routine calls earn a 6, though points can be deducted for flawed positioning. Blown calls merit a 0 or 1. Top officials average near 6.

How to earn a 7? Save an entire officiating crew or make a proper ruling on the last play of the game.
Carollo says his crews average 5.6 mistakes per game — and that includes incorrect mechanics or faulty positioning.

The conference is serious enough about trying to get calls right that it spends about $1 million annually to train and grade its officials. Three characteristics it looks for: capability, the capacity to improve and character, which includes meshing with crew members and handling coaches professionally.

What about the referee who patted OSU running back Mike Weber on the butt after a play?

Carollo, by the way, instructs officials to keep their hands off players, for reasons of image and professionalism. In this case, Bolinger was saluting Weber for not retaliating after a tough hit along the sideline. But patting him on the butt was unnecessary and a bad look.

What about refs being influenced because of where they live or grew up? Here’s how Carollo answered.

The Big Ten has no residency rule, and here’s why: Crews, especially the best ones, work together all season.

The one sent to Ohio Stadium on Nov. 26 was Carollo’s highest-rated crew, and it contained this geographic makeup: four from Indiana, three from Ohio, three from Michigan, one from Illinois, one from Pennsylvania.

What might draw extra scrutiny is if an official was next-door neighbors with a coach, if the official’s son or daughter worked in the athletic department of a Big Ten school or if the official donated to a school that is not his alma mater.

Also, every official has to submit to NCAA-coordinated background checks. The Big Ten has used government agencies to peer into the bank records and any gambling habits of officials.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly to me, the issue of Daniel Capron. The head official from The Game this year, Capron, was disciplined in 2002 after his crew’s performance at a Purdue-Wake Forest game. Carollo came to the defense of his referee as such.

Actually Capron was not fired, but the eight-man crew performed poorly enough in the 2002 Purdue-Wake Forest game that it was essentially benched for one game.

“That was for calls that Capron had nothing to do with,” Carollo said. “The crew sat down one game and returned for the rest of the season.”

This is a spot where I wish Greenstein would’ve pressed further in the interview. As the head referee, how does Capron have “nothing to do with” any calls in that game? Seems like he’d have something to do with every call as the head referee.

If he had “nothing to do with the calls” why was he suspended for one game? Solidarity with the rest of his crew?

Most importantly, what was the process of reinstatement for this crew? It’s hard to believe that if the crew was not able to officiate to Big Ten standards, only taking a week off would  be enough to bring them back up to speed.

Carollo had this to offer in the regarding the Big Ten’s approach to explaining controversial calls after games.

The Big Ten could help its cause by being more transparent after controversial calls, but the conference is generally fonder of trotting out this line: “The Big Ten considers this matter closed and will have no further comment.”

I don’t really have a problem with this. It’s not the controversial calls I’m concerned with. My chief issue is the system that puts officials place who may be less competent than others. That system needs transparency.

Here is another interesting revelation from the interview.

“People say: ‘Where’s the accountability?'” Carollo said. “We do a lot of things quietly; we sit down crews (for a game). That does not come out publicly, but I do tell the coaches (involved).”

Sitting a crew for a game does, what, exactly regarding their competency? Besides the independent review of the calls from any game as described above, what system is used to make sure the refs are better next game? Just the fact that they take a break for a weekend is supposed to make them better at their job?

According to the article, some of the motivation may be financial.

Carollo can assign officials to games involving the Big Ten, Mid-American Conference or Missouri Valley Football Conference. If you could make $3,000 working a Big Ten game, $2,000 for a MAC game and $1,000 for a Missouri Valley game, which would you strive for?

First of all, increased pay does not equal better production or performance. One can be motivated by increased pay, but, it won’t necessarily make you better at your job. I’m sure that refs are doing the absolute best job they possibly can. It’s not about effort – it’s about competence and ability. Greenstein should’ve asked for more detail here. Is this really the best the Big Ten can do?

The fact that Carollo portrayed himself as a condescending know-it-all is not really important. I’m appreciative of this is new information. This is a step in the right direction for the Big Ten. This type of transparency and explanation makes their decisions more understandable. Here’s hoping that there will be more information brought forth from the conference in the future.

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