Big 12 Insider: Disclose injuries or gag the media?

It is one of the longstanding stalemates between reporters and coaches. Player injuries.

TCU coach Gary Patterson did not disclose that Waymon James was done for the year last week during his Tuesday media luncheon despite knowing James' season was over. Patterson said James' availability would be a game-time decision. But the next day Patterson told reporters that he had known on Monday that James required season-ending knee surgery.

The week before, USC coach Lane Kiffin banned a reporter from practice because he wrote about an injured player needing surgery. Kiffin based his ban on an agreement that reporters would not report injury news that occurred during practice. Problem is, the injury didn't happen at practice, and the Los Angeles Daily News reporter got his information from other sources. The ban lasted half a day after a minor uproar.

But the debate over whether the NCAA or conferences should institute formal injury reports began to build.

Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott said uniform injury reports would be discussed at the conference's athletic directors meeting in early October. The Atlantic Coast Conference coaches agreed several years ago to release injury information similar to what the NFL does. Each Monday and two days before games ACC coaches release updated information, but the league has no authority over the reports and it's not mandatory. There is no penalty if the guidelines are disregarded, so each coach is left to his own ethical standards.

In the Big 12, there is no policy regarding injuries. But league coaches seem to like the idea of a policy where each coach deals with the same standards. Texas coach Mack Brown said he planned to bring it up at the Big 12 coaches meetings in the spring.

"I really wish that either across the board we'd have no comment or maybe we go to an NFL-style and you'd have to come forth with it," Brown said. "And if it's wrong then there's some penalty. I don't know. But we're all over the place with it right now."

Some coaches are more forthcoming than others. Charlie Weis at Kansas uses an NFL-type system that breaks down player injuries into categories, such as probable (75 percent chance of playing), questionable (50 percent) and doubtful (25 percent).

"On one hand you don't want to give your opponent any information they don't need to know," Weis said. "On the other hand, writers and reporters have an ethical responsibility to try to do their job.

"The thing is how many people are going to give you an honest evaluation? That really is subjective. There's always going to be a gray area when it comes to injuries, and because there isn't anything uniform there's no value for any school telling everyone what's going on injury-wise, because the other guys don't have to do the same thing."

Brown envisions issues with the status of a player who is returning from injury changing daily the week before a game. This week, in fact, several injuries to Longhorns players, including running back Joe Bergeron, have changed throughout the week.

"Things change; being honest and fair is a very difficult thing," Brown said. "If you do say a player is ready to play and then he pulls a muscle on Tuesday, it looks like you lied. If they're coming off of an injury you're not going to practice them, in some cases, the same speed you do the other guys. So you may not know until game time whether they're ready to play or not."

One canard often used by coaches is HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which prevents health care providers from divulging medical information. Coaches, however, are not health care providers, and most schools require student-athletes to sign authorization forms, which allow trainers and physicians to share injury information with coaches. Furthermore, a player's availability or unavailability for a game does not approach being a HIPAA issue if no medical information is shared with media.

Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville says in today's Internet-driven information age that keeping an injury under wraps is usually a futile effort.

"We go through the situations in terms of trying to protect the athlete as much as we possibly can," Tuberville said. "Eventually, it usually comes out. There's so much information now that comes out on Facebook and Twitter -- it even gets around us a little bit. We're one of those who always tells how it is, what it is, when it happened. Because it doesn't do any good to hide anything. There probably needs to be -- somewhere, somehow -- looked into a national way to do it; [with] everybody on the same page."

Mike Gundy releases Oklahoma State injury information each Friday before games "to make it easier on everybody." He also thinks players appreciate the openness. But he's hardly convinced a nationwide policy could be adequately enforced.

"Whether you could regulate it at the college level, I don't know if that would ever be consistent, because one coach could say a young man is probable and he's really not," he said. "I don't know how you'd ever really measure or get a good feel for what the exact injury report would be."

And that's exactly why coaches such as Kiffin and Patterson try to stay tight-lipped about injuries.

"This is about being at a competitive advantage versus a competitive disadvantage," Kiffin told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm just trying to give my team every chance to win. I'm not saying you go 12-0 instead of 6-6 based on injury information. But the coach of any sport wants to know who is playing for his opponent, what part of them isn't healthy. Will it affect what direction a lineman will block or how fast a receiver will run?"

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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