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Need to Know

U.S.C. Error Shows Need for Injury Reports

Earlier this week, U.S.C. announced that Scott Wolf, who covers Trojans’ athletics for the L.A. Daily News, was barred from attending two weeks of practice and would not be credentialed for U.S.C.’s home game against California on Sept. 22. Why? Because Wolf, doing his job, reported on an injury: Andre Hedari, per Wolf, will miss about three weeks to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. U.S.C. didn’t like that; U.S.C., like many others, has a policy that forbids media members from reporting “on strategy or injuries that are observed during the course of watching that practice or result from that practice.”

To clarify, the Trojans’ policy continues: “In other words, if U.S.C. is running certain formations or plays, please do not report that. Also, if players cannot participate in practice because of injuries or are injured during practice, please do not report that.”

“U.S.C. allows media access into all of its practices, and those practices are closed to the general public, and therefore U.S.C. asks that the media not disclose information that is observed or learned that could put U.S.C. at a competitive disadvantage to opponents. Media who cannot abide by this request could be denied access to practice.”

And there goes Mr. Wolf. The issue? Wolf did not issue his report based on information gleaned from practice – Wolf hasn’t commented on his reporting, of course, but the perception is that he got his information from a source, not from something he witnessed during practice.

How could he learned anything from practice? Kiffin doesn’t talk about injuries, whether on the field or off; Kiffin never talks about injuries. And Wolf has been doing this long enough to understand not only U.S.C.’s policy but also the potential ramifications of violating the policy.

Yesterday, after U.S.C. athletic director Pat Haden met with sports editors from the Daily News, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, the university lifted the ban preventing Wolf from attending practice.

Said Kiffin yesterday: “What Scott was trying to get done wasn’t against what we were trying to say. Scott’s back. I apologize if that was taken the wrong way. We viewed it differently. We are trying to get together to come up with the best situation for all of us.”

But this isn’t about U.S.C. or the school’s media policy, silly as it is. It’s about an even sillier aspect of the head-coach-as-C.E.O. landscape: While the N.F.L. forces teams to issue an injury report every Wednesday – earlier if a team is playing a mid-week game – the N.C.A.A. allows programs like U.S.C. to issue edicts that prevent media personnel from doing their jobs.

So let’s use U.S.C. as an example. Clearly, it’s time for the N.C.A.A. to institute an N.F.L.-like rule for programs on the F.B.S. level: injury reports must be issued every Thursday. Why? Let’s see.

Issuing injury reports levels the playing field across the board. Consider U.S.C.’s product, which is such a valued commodity that the university can essentially dictate whether media outlets can provide coverage, even if Haden and Kiffin can’t dictate what the media reports – can’t decide what a columnist writes, what a beat reporter reports, etc.

Other programs don’t have this option. For Western Kentucky, for example, media coverage is an asset, not a bother. What better way for the Hilltoppers to get their product out there than by giving local media outlets wall-to-wall access? U.S.C. can be picky; lesser programs can’t.

I blame Bill Belichick, who once listed Tom Brady as “doubtful” for every game from 2005-7, even if Brady didn’t miss a single game. Belichick’s C.I.A. mentality trickled down to Nick Saban, one of his acolytes, and has since seeped into the coach-speak of nearly every head coach in the country.

Take the embattled John L. Smith. Asked yesterday about the availability of Tyler Wilson, who was injured during Arkansas’ loss to Louisiana-Monroe and was not seen practicing, Smith replied that Wilson “was busy.” Busy with what, homework?

This needs to be streamlined. Issuing injury reports isn’t just for oddsmakers – it’s also to protect the sanctity of each individual game, as silly as that sounds. Fair-minded injury reports would place every team on the same page for every Saturday; it would also stop a program like U.S.C. from preventing or limiting media access, a move that hurts media personnel, media outlets and public consumers.

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  1. Patrick says:

    What about HIPAA and FERPA? These are still students and amateur athletes. If they were getting paid, then I suppose you could justify requiring them to waive their rights under HIPAA and FERPA. Otherwise, I don’t think whatever dubious impact this might have on the game’s “sanctity” trumps the players’ statutory right to privacy.

  2. gengiskahn says:

    It won’t work. Mike Shanahan was fined repeatedly for putting half of the Broncos on the injury report. Rules are created for coaches to “work”

  3. BobJ says:

    Then there’s Oregon’s Chip Kelley, who routinely closes practice to everybody, including all the pre-season practices in August.

  4. Bobak says:

    Wolf blurs the lines between beat reporter and columnist far too much.

  5. Brad says:

    Belichick didn’t list Brady as “Doubtful” (25% chance of playing), he listed him as “probable” (75%), and occasionally “questionable” (50%). And I know people treated that as a joke and typical of Belichick’s skulduggery, but the NFL injury report rules dictate that a player appear on the injury report based on their participation in practice, and Brady frequently was a limited participant in practice during those years.

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