The NCAA’s refusal to implement injury reports across college football doesn’t just annoy those who enjoy placing the occasional wager at their friendly neighborhood sports book.
The friendly neighborhood sports writer (well, at least this one) is a little exasperated, too.
With the advent of sports betting being legalized throughout the United States, the NCAA looked into issuing injury reports much like is done in the NFL. So, a day or two before games, it’s made public who is probable, questionable, doubtful or out.
I’ve been beating the drum for years to establish a college injury report. And I started wishing on every falling star that this came true, but for different reasons than the majority of those wanting that practice to begin.
In my experience, one of the most annoying questions to ask for both coach and reporter is how badly is a player hurt and how long will that player be out of action. If a guy gets carried off the field without putting weight on one of his legs, everyone naturally is curious as to his availability for the next game and beyond.
Here’s the problem: Some coaches treat injury statuses like nuclear codes. They want to give the opposition zero advantage, so if they can keep the next foe guessing as to whether it has to scheme for that particular backup defensive tackle, by golly, they’re gonna do it.
And here’s the rub: One of the things readers want to know most is how healthy the roster is each week. So, as the conduit between reader and football program, we ask.
And here’s how it usually goes: Reporter asks Coach about injury to Player A. Coach says he doesn’t want to get into it and says if a guy is out, he’ll say it (spoiler: not often, if at all). Player A then doesn’t dress for the next game. So at the next media availability, Reporter asks Coach about Player A again. And the dance continues.
At some point, the coach gets annoyed at the reporter for continuing to ask the question, while the reporter gets annoyed at the coach for an unnecessary cat-and-mouse game. You know what could help fix that?
You guessed it ... a uniform college football injury report.
A form of this was used in the ACC for years. About 48 hours before a team’s game, the team releases an injury report. Players were designated probable, questionable, doubtful or out, and the offending body part was in parentheses beside the name.
So on Thursday before a Saturday game, the reporter would learn that Player A was questionable with a knee problem or probable with a shoulder problem. And if a guy was out for the season, that was announced the Monday after the previous game.
No muss, no fuss. No need to waste press conference time asking the question when the information was guaranteed later in the week. (And later in the week was good, because it gave the coaches time to evaluate the player’s health at the end of practices rather than try to guess on a Monday or Tuesday).
The world kept revolving on its axis. The earth did not crack open and drag each ACC football program screaming into the molten abyss. Life went on.
Yet the NCAA ad hoc committee created to research the issue decided that, according to reports, the establishment of such a list was “not viable,” and that “membership has significant concerns about the purpose, parameters, enforcement and effectiveness of a player availability reporting model.’’ There apparently was heartburn over even calling it an “injury report” because of patient and student privacy laws.
Now, patient privacy laws do not vanish once an athlete moves from college to the pros, yet injury reports are commonplace in major professional sports leagues. Which begs the question — is this really about gambling, or more about coaches’ paranoia of leaking the slightest sliver of information into the public forum?
Look, I know this is a small-potatoes issue in college sports. And it sounds like I’m some cranky old sportswriter (which I am ... so ... that part’s right). But I’m allowed to hope for a helping hand that could close down one pathway to tension between reporter and coach.
But the world will keep revolving on its axis. Life will go on. The reporter-coach dance will continue.
Woulda been nice to have a rest, though.