Twelve different programs participate in Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, and each one comes with a different set of circumstances and issues for the upcoming season, but one topic seemed to relate to all conference coaches during Wednesday’s session.
The NCAA recently revealed a new rule where a player can be immediately ejected from a game for targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders.
The rule has good intention geared toward increased player safety, but there is a concern among some that it could lead to subjective decision making and result in players being thrown out when it isn’t warranted.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini was one of the more outspoken critics questioning how officials would go about determining the correct call.
“The scary thing to me is just what you said: It’s the application part of it,” said Pelini during his Wednesday session at Big Ten Media Days.
“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.”
Pelini went on to make it clear that player safety is a high priority of his but still doesn’t want to see the game compromised.
“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,” he said.
Others including Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald were a bit more diplomatic in their comments.
Fitzgerald even made an analogy to hockey, mentioning that there is less of an emphasis placed on fighting now and a higher priority on skill and athleticism.
“If you’re defenseless, you should be protected,” he said.
For Bill O’Brien, preparation is the best way to deal with this potential issue. Penn State’s head coach will be modeling this approach after one of his mentors in New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
The NFL is no stranger to this issue, handing out several fines over the past few seasons for illegal hits.
“I thought Bill did a great job with that when I was in New England – teaching guys what exactly players did wrong,” said O’Brien.
At the beginning of training camp, he will have some clips prepared to show examples of how hitting with your head can get someone ejected.
Ultimately though, “it comes down to a judgment call on the field,” said O’Brien.
This is where officials will come in. Referees will be visiting different training camps to go over new rules and allowing teams to ask questions about what is permitted and what could result in a player being thrown out.
O’Brien hopes his players will be receptive to it, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a fan of the new rule. One of the hardest hitters on the team, Glenn Carson, is not.
“I’m not a huge fan of it,” said a rather candid Carson.
“I’m all about player safety, but I don’t want to change the game. I’ve seen calls there that have been wrong.,” he said. “I don’t think you should change how you can and cannot hit someone. I love hard nose football and big hits. It’s a little upsetting for me. It would really be horrible to see a ref make a controversial call and have to eject a player when he thought he was making a fair hit.”
It will be interesting to see how often this rule is a factor once the season gets underway. Right now, players and coaches across the conference – and the country – can agree to disagree.