Injury Reports A Divisive Topic Among College Coaches

Battles Brewing In College Football As Injury Reports Split Coaches, Administrators

College football injury report

Throughout the course of natural history, there are many stories of species that failed to adapt to external pressures like megatherium americanum, better known as the Giant Ground Sloth. Many of its contemporaries, like bison bison, adapted to survive.

External impacts like concerns over increasing legalization of sports betting in the United States are putting similar pressure on the NCAA and its membership to adapt to live.

Citing concerns over legal sports betting, athletic directors from the Big Ten Conference have asked the NCAA to implement a nationwide standard for reporting injuries to players prior to games.

Why college football injury reports are on the radar

The perceived dangers of insider information are well-known. Bettors with an inside source — a trainer, video coordinator, equipment manager — could obtain advance notice about an injured quarterback and gain an edge at the window. Could an inside source even place the wager for their own gain? Could that information be sold to the highest bidder or exchanged for donations to a program?

These concerns are not new, of course, and have been managed ably by Nevada regulators and NCAA officials at UNLV and Nevada for many years. Some athletic directors now dealing with the issue on a national scale want an injury report to level the betting field for everyone. Not all athletic directors and coaches are on board with the idea though, and the NCAA could have some rough waters to navigate here.

Big Ten among those in favor

One of the Big Ten ADs, Iowa’s Gary Barta, feels the need for such a standard in college football is real.

“Our most important considerations on the topic are what’s best for the student-athlete and what’s best for the integrity of the game,” Barta said. “Like anything we do in college sports, I think the more consistent we can be to remain on an equal playing field the better.”

Barta’s comments were echoed by another of his colleagues in the Big Ten, Ohio State AD Gene Smith, in a Columbus Dispatch article.

“We talked about the injury reports, and obviously that’s something we should think about making more transparent and having more consistency,” Smith said.

The need isn’t just recognized by the Big Ten, however. ACC Commissioner John Swofford went on the record in an Associated Press article to state that the need for a standardized injury report is “critically important.”

Bringing coaches along could be challenging

If a consensus ever forms on the formation of an injury report, the next tenuous step would be what it looks like. Most coaches prefer to keep information about the active or inactive status of their players completely secret.

  • Would a report feature simply whether a player practiced or not, or would it include a specific injury?
  • Would it detail full or partial practice participation?
  • How often each week would the information be released?

As for Iowa, Barta said he and head coach Kirk Ferentz will be on board if a standard is implemented.

“If the NCAA implements a national standard for reporting injuries, Iowa is comfortable participating,” Barta stated. “Kirk and I are on the same page.”

That does not hold for all coaches, though. Washington State coach Mike Leach made it clear at Pac-12 Media Day: he will try to beat the system.

“They might force me. I doubt it. But they might, and if they do, then I’ll try to figure out a way around it,” Leach said.

Issues beyond letting people inside the huddle

There are other concerns besides coaches not wanting to show their hands. The medical privacy of the athletes is also a concern. In addition to federal HIPAA laws, some states have even more stringent laws that could prevent athletic departments from disclosing details about player health. That could complicate implementing a national standard.

Currently, HIPAA compliance of a national injury report isn’t a huge concern for Barta.

“My assumption is any plan put forward by the NCAA would be HIPAA-compliant. We haven’t looked into it beyond that,” Barta said.

Privacy, and how information about injuries might affect their future prospects, seem to be the foremost concern of athletes involved. Numerous NFL players like Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul have expressed concerns about player health information being made public in the past. Pierre-Paul filed suit in 2016 against ESPN for publishing information about the amputation of his right index finger.

Finding the right balance

Barta and others feel that a balance can be struck between all the competing concerns regarding a nationwide injury report. Finding that balance will have to wait until all parties involved have bought into the need for such a standard, however.

“In the conversations with which I’ve been involved, the discussion has been centered around the principle and not as much on the details,” Barta elaborated. “Comments with national peers have been consistent with Big Ten peers.”

The need for a nationwide injury report for college football is perceived as serious for NCAA D-I schools, but how it goes about that adaptation will decide whether the game will be more like bison bison or megatherium americanum.

- Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.