Team A has 2nd-and-goal at Team B's 1-yard line. With Team A trailing 21-14 and no time outs remaining, its running back dives into the line of scrimmage. His helmet comes off at the half-yard line with two seconds left in the game. He immediately extends the ball through the goal-line plane before he contacts the ground.
That question is the equivalent of a chip-shot field goal for Big Ten officials, who gathered Saturday at a Rosemont hotel for their annual three-day summer clinic. The room contained 190 zebras, all of them men, and, for the first time, a handful of media members.
The league's coordinator of football officials, Bill Carollo, wanted reporters to understand better what it takes to survive and thrive on the job.
What I learned:
To err is human: "There's never a perfect game," Carollo said. "The coaches know we make 5.2 mistakes per game and where we're most inconsistent — offensive pass interference, blocks in the back. The only two perfect things are your mother and your maker."
The terminology: Calls aren't "missed" or "blown." They are "kicked." In written tests and discussions, Team A is on offense and Team B plays defense.
Safe and sound: Almost every new rule promotes player safety. Blocking below the waist is now illegal, with few exceptions, to eliminate "crack-back" blocks. Members of the kickoff coverage team are limited to a five-yard running start. A player about to field an onside kick gets "halo" protection. If a player loses his helmet — unless it was yanked off — he must leave the game for at least one play. Future penalties could call for a loss of yardage and/or a timeout.
High hits, the kind that can cause concussions, are an unnecessary evil.
Said Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher: "The old saying is: 'That's a good, hard-nosed football play.' We have to change that. We have to get the heads out of it. Or it will screw up our game and someone will get (seriously) hurt."
Snow fair: Last season Penn State fans fired snowballs at Illinois kicker Derek Dimke, who missed a 42-yarder in a 10-7 loss. Had a snowball directly affected the kick, officials would have enacted "The Jesus Rule," which Carollo defined as: "You do what is fair." That could mean a do-over or 15-yard penalty for the home team.
Heads up: Two "kicked" helmet-to-helmet calls in Northwestern games prompted officials to re-examine the rule and its intent. One incorrect call (a last-minute hit on a lunging Dan Persa) helped the Wildcats beat Vanderbilt in 2010; the other, an Ibraheim Campbell tackle on an option quarterback, contributed to NU's loss at Army last season. Neither ballcarrier was "defenseless," a key component.
But instant replay on helmet-to-helmet calls is not the answer, Carollo said. He showed a group of commissioners and coaches 35 plays and asked them which were worthy of penalties and ejections, and the debates continued after 15 minutes of slo-mo replays.
Time suck: Officials work up to 40 hours a week in season, including travel, film study, conference calls and game reviews. And they already have full-time jobs. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said of the scrutiny: "It's all out on the table — who you play golf with, whether or not your mortgage is paid off, where you went to college."
The answer is … The game is over. The play is ruled dead after the ballcarrier loses his helmet. Team A, without a timeout, is powerless to combat a 10-second runoff, in effect in the final minute of each half. Kids, tighten those helmet straps.