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Pac-12 Roundtable: Injury Reports, Banning Reporters, Media Access

Our latest Pac-12 roundtable looks at injury reports. Were Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin overzealous in their harsh guidelines of banning reporters for talking about anything that happens in practice, and should the conference mandate.

Harry How - Getty Images

(This roundtable was conducted before the Pac-12 announced they would look into mandatory weekly injury reports later on this season.)

So Lane Kiffin banned Scott Wolf from practice for reporting on the injury of USC kicker Andre Heidari because of a no-injury policy rule. USC eventually reinstated Wolf, but that hasn't stopped Kiffin from acting bizarro.

Steve Sarkisian imitated the practice and pretty much told reporters not to report on ANYTHING (injuries, observations, anything about anyone) from practice.

Brian Floyd argues this goes a bridge too far.

We're allowed to write about what we see in front of us, when it pertains to injuries. Jeff Tuel was wearing a large brace, watching practice and riding a bike on Monday. He was wearing a smaller brace, not riding a bike, and watching practice (while also throwing in certain drills) on Tuesday. I have no idea what his injury is -- other than something to his right knee -- and will not speculate.

That paragraph above would get credentials pulled at USC and, now, Washington. And it won't stop there. Sarkisian saw what Kiffin did and ported it over to his program. Odds are plenty of programs will follow. Because that's just how the world works -- coaches are a paranoid bunch and will take every perceived competitive advantage they can get while pushing things just about as far as they can.

If a coach doesn't want to talk, fine. But controlling what can and can't be written, above and beyond the standard strategy rules, about is pushing things to a new level. It's bullying, plain and simple. And until someone steps in, as Kevin Pelton mentioned, it's only going to get worse.

I ask three questions on the subject, and a few of our Pac-12 writers were happy to discuss. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.

1) How do you believe Kiffin and Sarkisian acted in these circumstances? Would you have acted differently if you were aiming for more secrecy?

K_Zim, Arizona Desert Swarm: I could be completely wrong, but I'm not sure this is even a coaching issue so much as a media control one. Bob Condotta, who broke the Washington policy news, wrote that Sarkisian was once willing and open to talk about injuries. Did he decide overnight that doing so hurts his program? I doubt it. In the grand scheme of things, I don't see how letting an opponent know an injury to even a star helps all that much. The player either will or will not be able to play -- that's what hurts -- and the opponent will find out and adjust.

norcalnick, California Golden Blogs: The question I have: Are coaches who attempt to conceal injury news attempting to gain a competitive advantage, or are they attempting to protect the hypothetically private health information of their athletes? HIPAA baby!

I think the former is an ultimately fruitless strategy, although I can understand why coaches are willing to grasp at any incredibly tiny straw that they think will give them a leg up. The latter is 100% acceptable but rarely seems to get discussed.

Paragon SC, Conquest Chronicles: I have a problem with putting out a players injury info. Players don't sign their personal rights away just because they get a free ride. They should have some semblance of privacy. That being said, I am not naive, that is not why this was done. This was all about moving the chess pieces on the board. The less an opponent knows the tougher it is to game plan.

2) Several Pac-12 schools have strict rules on practice (Oregon, Stanford, WSU all close the shutters as well as USC and UW). How much access does the media deserve at practice? Is banning media based on breaking rules an acceptable deterrent?

K_Zim: Honestly, coaches don't have to give the media any practice access. The problem (for me, as a former student media member at Arizona) came from getting access at all. If they're worried about practice, give the media locker room access like the old days, or at least help them out by setting up interviews with players. And banning media is OK deterrent if it's for acceptable reasons. A school can keep things private and it's their right, but the problem in the USC case is that Wolf found sources outside of practice. In essence, they banned him from circumventing their rule. Oh, and it's bad publicity too.

Norcalnick: 'Deserve' is an interesting word. I'm not sure the media deserve anything, particularly in regards to what is ultimately a leisure activity, no matter how many millions of dollars it produces.

For football programs, I would frame it as a cost-benefit analysis. What is the downside to giving media regular practice access? Certain coaches clearly believe that allowing media to view practice allows strategic information to filter to opponents. I personally have seen little proof that this actually happens, but enough brilliant coaches clearly think it's a problem, and who am I to tell Chip Kelly and Mike Leach that they're wrong?
I think the upside is that you have a better informed, more engaged fanbase that might feel a greater connection to their players and coaching staff. But it's hard for me to blame a head coach for doing whatever they think is necessary to win games. It's hard to argue that the only thing that matters to their job security are Ws and Ls.

Paragon SC: USC's closing practice was NCAA mandated but Lane Kiffin embraced it as a way to shut outsiders out. I know for a fact that if they could, USC would close practices completely...but the backlash would be too much. I think closing practices are coming, this move was a probing move to see just how much the team could get away with in restricting access. I also think they (USC) knew this uproar would happen but they wanted to see how much they could get away with.

Schools have the right to set rules and enforce them. What no one seemed to see was the Tweet by Dennis Dodd basically saying that if the schools restrict access the school will not get positive coverage or favorable rankings in the polls. Bruce Feldman Tweeted that taking away the press's ability to cover a team could lead to the press looking for other stories to cover...negative stories. I like Feldman, but that came off as petulant, as if the press needs motivation to investigate a juicy scandal...

Small moves by the schools to strengthen their position. More will follow

3) Should the Pac-12 mandate injury reports like the ACC? Or do Pac-12 schools have no reason to provide injury reports at all?

K_Zim: I think USC's lifting of the ban came because the athletic department realized that it's not a good look to keep fans (and thus, reporters) in the dark on these issues. Released injury reports would keep reporters from breaking practice rules though, so if coaches are really that uptight about it, they could release injury reports later in the week too.

Norcalnick: As I intimated above, I think it's a little creepy to mandate the release of health information in any form for players that aren't getting paid. I guess if the ACC only demands to know whether or not a player is playing is one thing, but if they also demand to know the reason a player cannot play . . . that strikes me as a step too far.

As a die-hard fan, I like to know when players are injured for a variety of reasons. In fact, it's often in the best interests of the program and the players to be honest so that fans understand why a player hasn't been playing or producing up to their expectations. But I certainly don't consider it a right. Published injury reports always struck me as a hidden concession to the gambling community anyway.

Paragon SC: This is a tough one. As I indicated earlier I am not a fan of publishing injury reports of these kids, they have not signed their privacy away like the players in the NFL have with big contracts...but it is hard not to argue that some form of info should be put forth. Hard to know what the right answer is...

I think the conference will fall somewhere in the middle next season.