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Fitzgerald Not Worried About New "Targeting" Rules

College football’s new “targeting” rules have created quite the stir. Some applauded the rules for getting tough on dangerous hits, while others worried that they’re starting a trend toward “flag football.” Unsurprisingly, you can count Big Ten officials coordinator Bill Carollo as a proponent on the new rules.

“These are better athletes, it’s faster, it’s harder and there are more injuries — more head trauma-type injuries that we’re seeing — and we know what the results are — they aren’t good for these players,” Carollo said. “Our number one goal is players’ health and safety, and we will continue that mantra with our officials.”

The general rules, as pointed out by Pat Fitzgerald, have not changed. However, the enforcement of the rules has. Officials will now be tougher on illegal hits, especially those above the shoulders. Players will now be ejected for those dangerous hits, with replay reviews that can overturn an ejection but keep a 15-yard penalty.

“You’re going to get our attention if you just throw yourself at your opponents and target them and lead with your helmet,” Carollo said. “If you hit them in the wrong spot with the crown of your helmet, or hit your opponent above his shoulders and he’s defenseless, you will probably get a flag.”

The new rules have worried some coaches. Some coaches noted that they may have to carry extra defensive backs on their teams in case their players are ejected. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was particularly vocal at Big Ten Media Days, saying that the rules seemed too subjective. However, Carollo wasn’t worried about that aspect of the changes, saying they’ve already been working with officials to pick out which plays could be considered targeting — for the record, Carollo said he thought Jadeveon Clowney’s hit in the Outback Bowl was legal.

While Carollo doesn’t think there will be an epidemic of ejections with the enforcement changes, he did say he thinks the threat of ejection will lead to safer, more fundamental tackling.

“I think we’ve lost some of the techniques that we started with years ago on tackling,” he said. “Keeping your head up, moving your head to the side, tackling with the shoulder into the midsection, that was what tackling was about.”

Some coaches are already working to make sure their players learn how to play within the rules. Boise State’s Chris Petersen even brought in a rugby coach to help teach his players how to wrap up correctly. However, that’s not on the table for Pat Fitzgerald, who says he never saw players go high last year — NU players and opponents — and he only saw one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“Are we going to have to work through it? Are there going to be some issues with it? Absolutely,” he said. “But I look forward to working with Bill Carollo and our officials.”

Overall, Fitzgerald is a proponent of the rule and its purpose.

“My hope is it deters one guy from going high on another guy,” he said. “It’s not just a defensive player, it’s also the offensive player. I’m also a guy who covered kickoffs and got his lips knocked off from a guy he never even saw. If we can eliminate that from the game, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.”

However, Fitzgerald isn’t worried about the violence that comes with the territory in football, even as someone who “got his lips knocked off” regularly in college. When pressed by a reporter about whether he would let his son play football considering the concussion issues, Fitzgerald didn’t hesitate.

“No, (the concussion issue) doesn’t deter me,” he said. “I watch them play soccer and they run with no pads on and bang their heads, they’re like bobbleheads at that age. Their helmets are bigger than their bodies. It’s a riot; it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

For Fitzgerald, the positives in football far outweigh the potential risks.

“It’s the best team game to teach you about yourself, the values you learn about being a teammate in this game, and I think just the discipline it takes to be a young football player is very challenging,” he said.

“My son Jack is eight years old and played his first year of tackle football this year. He showed up on time and his coach made him run around the goalpost, and he came home and told his mom he was late, that’s why he ran. I was like, ‘This is the greatest thing of all time.’”