Injuries: To report or not report

uw football: Coach Sarkisian’s reversal has added fuel to the fuss

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comSeptember 23, 2012 

After letting out a disgruntled sigh, USC coach Lane Kiffin announced he had to be going and left.

Kiffin was 29 seconds into his midweek meeting with the media when an injury-related question was asked. That ended the discussion.

Kiffin’s disdain for talking about injuries is shared by many coaches in the Pacific-12 Conference. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian recently announced prior to the UW-Portland State game that he would no longer discuss injuries. This runs counter to the openness he touted when he arrived on campus in late 2008.

But gradually he has joined Oregon, Stanford, USC and Washington State in the current mode of lip-zipping regarding injuries, citing his forthrightness as a competitive disadvantage.

A run of recent incidents have caused Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to suggest considering a uniform injury report for the conference, a dramatic step only the Atlantic Coast Conference has taken. The idea, embraced by Sarkisian and Washington athletics director Scott Woodward, will be discussed at an October meeting of the conference’s athletics directors.

But not all coaches have jumped on that bandwagon. Washington State coach Mike Leach has derided reporters who are interested in injury news as “slackers” and said he would he would not follow any league-mandated policy. Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who does not acknowledge injuries, said the issue is “silly.”

Scott’s idea is a multi-layered gamble. What happens when a Pac-12 team plays a foe from conference that does not share the policy, especially in a bowl game? How specific will it be? How would the conference enforce it?

“You tell me,’’ Woodward said. “How do you enforce traffic tickets? That’s always the tough question.’’

The ACC schools don’t give injury reports for non-conference games and not all schools provide information since it is a “guideline” versus a “policy.” There is no penalty for failing to report.

The NFL’s approach to weekly injury reports is vague, but does clarify if a player is not participating in an upcoming game, something college coaches try to hide. It also exists, in part, to help set betting lines in Las Vegas. Point spreads move alongside injury news on Twitter and info crawls on television screens. This concerns Seattle Sea-hawks coach Pete Carroll, who was mentor to Kiffin and Sarkisian.

“I don’t think that’s necessary at all,” Carroll said. “I mean, who’s that important to? I hate to mention who I think it’s important to, because it has nothing to do (with the game) … I don’t think that needs to be part of college football.”

Gambling is not a topic often discussed by those in the college ranks, yet, as Carroll points out, it needs to be considered.

The “competitive advantage” argument has little merit. If, as was the case for USC’s recent game against Stanford, an All-Pac-12 second-team center does not play, any opponent with a moderate amount of football intelligence would adjust early in the game. Stanford’s defense did that by going up the middle against USC, which was playing without center Khaled Holmes.

Another aspect is protecting players. Designating specific injuries could lead to targeting by opponents during the game. That’s a legitimate concern and most injury reports contain specifics such as “upper body” or “leg.”

In addition, Woodward said the proliferation of media sources makes it much more difficult to hide injuries.

“There’s so much access, and there’s so many people, and so many access points in it that there are no more secrets,” Woodward said. “In the ’70s you could hide injuries, or in the ’80s you could hide injuries and no one would ever know. You can’t hide anything now.’’

That won’t stop coaches from trying.

“There isn’t a rule for the league, so the guys get to handle it the way they feel best, and I think that’s what they should do,” Carroll said. “If I was choosing, I would say that nobody had to say a thing, and you’d wait until game time and figure it out. But I don’t know how that changes around the conferences and around the country. If it was uniform, it would be great. And if it was uniform, I wish it would be that you didn’t have to disclose a thing.”

One of Carroll’s charges disagrees. Ex-Stanford standout and current Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin thinks college football should have the same policy as the NFL.

“One person doesn’t make the team, so if that person is injured, it doesn’t make any sense to me for it to become a circus and to try and withhold information about who’s playing and who’s not playing,” Baldwin said. “The game of football is pure. Either you can play, or you can’t. And if you’re injured, or you can’t play that week, then what’s the fuss?”

The fuss has grown into a fervor, and change could be coming as soon as this year.

Eric D. Williams contributed to this report. @Todd_Dybas

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