Should Pac-12 issue injury reports?

BY foxsports • September 20, 2012

Sept. 20, 2012

USC coach Lane Kiffin walked out of his regularly scheduled press conference after just 29 seconds on Wednesday when a reporter asked a question about an injured player. His behavior rekindled an age-old conflict between reporters and football coaches.

USC has a strict policy about injury information. During fall camp, the Trojans announced they would no longer discuss injuries and media members were not allowed to report on injuries observed in practice or report “if players cannot participate in practice because of injuries."

L.A. Daily News beat writer Scott Wolf was temporarily banned for reporting that injured kicker Andre Heidari underwent knee surgery after an injury in USC's Week 1 win over Hawaii and was scheduled to miss three weeks.

When Kiffin heard Wednesday’s question, he initially responded with, “I dunno” and let out a big sigh of frustration. As someone else started to ask a second question, Kiffin rose from his chair and announced, “I gotta go.”

On the one hand, you understand Kiffin’s position. In concealing injury information, he is protecting players from potentially being targeted by opponents, protecting those players’ rights to health privacy and limiting his opponents’ ability to game plan.

All are valid concerns, and none should be dismissed by self-serving reporters.

But there’s a problem with all of that. USC and every other college program thrives on media exposure and coverage. Part of that coverage is analysis -- critical analysis that may single out specific players for poor play and subject them to criticism from the fan base. If a media member doesn’t know a player is injured when he’s criticizing that player, he or she is unwittingly throwing that player under the bus without cause.

Very few coaches are eager to discuss injuries. Washington, USC, Oregon, Stanford, Washington State and UCLA are among the Pac-12 teams that won’t. And no matter what other spin the NFL puts on its injury reports, the only reason they exist is to aid gamblers and fantasy football players.

Still, NFL coaches find every possible loophole and circumvention to dilute those reports, whether it’s Bill Belichick’s habit of throwing half the team on the list or the Cardinals infamously calling Beanie Wells’ knee injury two seasons ago a bone bruise when he had actually undergone arthroscopic surgery. Once a reporter knows the ruse yet is prohibited from reporting it, he or she is being asked to lie to the audience, which violates a fundamental rule of journalism.

There is no easy answer, no matter what one side or the other might tell you. But maybe college football should take a page out of the NHL’s book and be less specific with the injuries while acknowledging that they exist. As Coyotes coach Dave Tippett joked last spring, the league used to divide the body into quarters, “but now we’re into halves.”

In the NHL, an injury is either an upper-body or a lower-body injury. College coaches shouldn’t be forced to announce anything more than that. Maybe all they should be required to do is announce a player is injured, without providing any specifics. The injury would be acknowledged so the reporter could factor that into his or her report. Nothing else really matters.

On the flip side, if a reporter finds out the true nature of that injury, he or she shouldn’t fear being banned from coverage for simply doing a job. Again, college football needs the media as much as the media needs college football.

One final but vital point: If a player is injured and wants the true nature of that injury reported, that should be his decision and his decision alone. It’s his body. Nobody else has the right to tell him what he gets to say about it.

-- Craig Morgan


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