Hot Reads: A College Football Injury Report Probably Probable
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: A College Football Injury Report Probably Probable

July 03, 2018

Mike Riley usually had a list. At his weekly Monday press conference during football season, after about a 10 minute evaluation of the previous Saturday, Riley would take a sip of Pepsi, glance down at the list and run through the injuries. That's probably more thorough and open than most coaches are willing to be.

Even though Riley made a point to have an injury update at the start of each week, by the time reporters talked to him next, on Thursday, things became a little less formal. He would offer updates off the top of his head, and usually hit the key guys but occasionally there would be a "did I forget anyone?" That was basically the injury reporting process at Nebraska, Riley would tell the local reporters what was going on and, while I haven't watched every weekly press conference for every team in the country (though I have seen quite a few), I always got the sense Riley did a better-than-average job of providing that information.

But it was still just something somebody told you. There was no rigor or structure to it, and the Big Ten is trying to change that. The conference athletic directors recently recommended to the NCAA Oversight Committee the development of a national injury reporting system for football in response to legalized sports betting.

From CBSSports.com:

"We have to be more transparent," Ohio State AD Gene Smith said during a National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics panel last week. "In football, we're going to kill this [idea of] gamesmanship around injuries."
Smith added: "We don't know if we want to report as many days as the NFL, but clearly on Mondays if somebody is injured from Saturday and you know they're not going to play the following Saturday because they broke their leg, why not just say that?"

The Big Ten included the NFL's policy, which had its first iteration in the 1940s, along with the proposal. I don't bet nor follow NFL betting trends closely enough to know how much injury reports there actually matter, but I do know they're omnipresent. Even as someone who barely follows the NFL I can't avoid finding out the status of so-and-so's hamstring injury just by visiting sports websites or watching TV.

But this quickly becomes a prickly issue at the college level. Forget the coaches who would be opposed to this level of openness, there are privacy laws in place, namely HIPAA, that could be a roadblock. As Dennis Dodd notes in his report, that could require the athletes to waive their right to such privacy.

Once you ask student athletes to give up a legally-protected right available to all other students, the athletes start to seem less like students and more like . . . well, you know. All so people can bet on a game? I don't have an issue with sports gambling and agree with the Big Ten's line of thinking that maintaining the integrity of the games is vastly important, but even the implementation of a standard injury report proves to be complicated once you wade into those waters.

And that's just the start because injuries are simply the easiest information to provide, but perhaps not the most valuable. The real attention-grabbing quote from that report is this one:

"When we think about information, it's not just injury," Naima Stevenson, an NCAA deputy legal counsel, explained at the NACDA convention. "Who just broke up with their girlfriend? That might cause them not to have their best game. That kind of information students will have easy access to … is going to have a value associated with it now, which is just a scary thought."

I don't much go for slippery-slope arguments, but this seems like a valid concern. Students on campus have always had the closest access to the players on these teams, teams that now produces hundreds of millions dollars in revenue. Are the more enterprising students now going to become weaponized brokers of inside information?

That seems a little dramatic, but widely available sports betting on college football forces you to at least consider the possibility. Ensuring the integrity of the games and a level playing field of a 30-team professional league is relatively easy compared to trying to do the same for a sport comprised of 130 individual programs with vastly different interests and resources.

A national injury report helps a little, and I'm guessing that will probably happen, but that's just one change that everyone sees coming. It's the ones nobody sees on the horizon right now that are going to be more difficult.

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