Disclosure of injuries has become a hot topic as more Pac-12 football coaches have closed practices or adopted policies of not talking about injuries.
The raging debate in Pac-12 football this week is not so much about USC’s fall from grace or Stanford’s sustained prominence or whether UCLA can keep it going. It’s the sizzling subject of, uh, injury disclosure.
That ought to be enough to stir the league to action and point it in the direction it should be headed: A standard, NFL-style policy of schools reporting injuries, so coaches don’t have to fret about whether the opposition knows its first-team gunner on the punt-cover team has a sore ankle.
The subject has elicited all sorts of thoughts the past couple of days from Pac-12 coaches, everything from support from Washington coach Steve Sarkisian to this from Washington State’s Mike Leach: “It’s nobody’s business.”
Last week’s events triggered the debate: USC coach Lane Kiffin imposed, then rescinded, a ban on an L.A. Daily News reporter for what Kiffin saw as a breach of his policy on writers not disclosing injuries they see at practices open to media. And Sarkisian implemented the same policy at UW.
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As if on cue, a situation arose at Utah to underscore the mess. On Wednesday, running back John White told reporters he “was 100 percent” and that his absence from practices had to do with a class project.
He didn’t play against BYU because of a bad ankle, and a Salt Lake City columnist wrote that he was either “clueless or a bold-faced liar.”
Just a guess, but I don’t think the Pac-12 likes to be in the position wherein circumstances suggest its athletes can be accused of bold-faced lying.
While Utah was playing BYU, another instructive incident surfaced at Missouri. By game day, word began to leak out that Mizzou’s gifted quarterback, James Franklin, might sit out with a shoulder problem. Arizona State coach Todd Graham said he didn’t find out until that day.
“I can tell you, that didn’t hurt us,” he said on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches conference call. “They run the same offense, they called the same plays we prepared for.”
The drop from Franklin to his backup, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, is as dramatic as it gets. Entering the ASU game, the sum total of Berkstresser’s college quarterbacking was five passes and six rushes.
All of which makes you wonder, given Graham’s observation, whether these dire fears of a “competitive disadvantage” for coaches discussing injuries is real.
But, whatever. Surely leveling the playing field with a conference-wide policy would be a popular alternative, right?
“I would still refuse,” says Leach.
David Shaw of Stanford is also opposed, though he says he shares key injury information with media members.
“This is not professional sports,” he insists. “I don’t believe everybody needs to know every bump and bruise on a football team.”
Both Leach and Shaw cite restrictions of HIPAA law, but that appears to be a stretch. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 provides for patient privacy related to health-care entities. But schools, including Washington, have solved that issue in the past by making a waiver available to athletes.
Leach has the law degree and I don’t, but the Atlantic Coast Conference has such a policy and seems to make it work. A spokesman calls it a “guideline,” not mandatory, and says schools put out a Monday report and another two days before games.
The Pac-12 should do at least that. Absent it, we’re left with Chip Kelly at Oregon saying, “Everybody’s day-to-day,” and Leach’s wry responses — granted, they tend to be pretty funny — like the one Monday on quarterback Jeff Tuel (“He’s ridiculously healthy.”).
As for Shaw’s comment that these aren’t professionals — all right, but I’d contend they’re quasi-professionals, or the schools should give back that $3 billion they’re hauling in for the next 12 years from ESPN and Fox.
While we tend to think of fans as only those deliriously making the “O” sign in Eugene or rocking Tequila (the song, I mean) in Seattle, let’s not forget there’s an element of relatively neutral football followers who might want to know about the product they’re asked to pay $80 to see (that’s without seat licenses).
If I had made the drive halfway across the state from St. Louis to Columbia, Mo., last week, I might have been chagrined to see Corbin Berkstresser at quarterback rather than James Franklin.
For that reason, and several others, the Pac-12 needs to get level. That’s a concept better addressed by its administrators than its coaches.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org