Rutgers coach Chris Ash says quarterback Art Sitkowski is “day to day,” which tells us (and next opponent Kansas) almost nothing. And Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald says starting offensive tackles Rashawn Slater and Blake Hance are “questionable,” a term used to stiff-arm questions about their availability.
With few exceptions, college football coaches would rather reveal their garage codes than health reports on their key players. It’s hard to blame them, given the perception of a strategic edge. But with deception and secrecy come consequences.
And with sports wagering set to become more prevalent after the Supreme Court’s ruling in May that overturned a federal ban on it, there’s increased concern that players and student trainers will get hounded by, shall we say, invested fans.
Largely for that reason, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) is recommending that college sports programs adopt a standard injury report.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is already there, saying in July during the conference’s football media days: “The availability of personnel, whether it comes from injury or transgression (suspension), is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally and illegally. When players are unavailable, we should know that.”
NATA President Tory Lindley believes the NCAA will adopt a standardized injury/availability report before the 2019 football season, and his group advocates two releases per week.
“If you wait until Friday,” Lindley said by telephone, “that leaves the vultures circling all week.”
Lindley is the head athletic trainer at Northwestern, but NATA’s proposed reforms would go beyond Evanston and the Big Ten, affecting all 130 FBS schools.
Here are the details:
— It would be unlike the NFL injury report, which lists players as questionable, doubtful and out. (“Probable” was eliminated in 2016.) The college reports would have two categories: “Out — Will not play” and “Doubtful — Unlikely to play.”
“The focus is on availability,” Lindley said. “When you say ‘questionable,’ it can create more speculation and people (bettors) hovering.”
— Also unlike the NFL, no body parts would be listed. Injuries would be “upper body” or “lower body,” like in the NHL. Two benefits: Student-athletes retain some privacy, especially those who don’t want to leave a paper trail of injuries for NFL evaluators. And opponents would not, in theory, be able to home in on a susceptible body part.
An illness such as mono likely would be listed as upper body. In all cases, the athlete would have the choice to consent to a more detailed public release.
— An initial injury report would go public Sunday or Monday. (Schools have to hash this out.) The second likely would be released Thursday afternoon.
“By Thursday at 5:30, there’s not a whole lot people can do with that information,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said last month. “If (coaches) want to go ahead and start changing their game plan then, more power to them.”
Johnson is among the ACC coaches who advocate for injury reports, though the conference scrapped them heading into the 2017 season.
Why? Because nonconference opponents declined to reveal injuries. And some ACC coaches fudged their reports.
And that leads to the biggest question: How would the new system be enforced? The NFL can fine teams $20,000. The NCAA, which took more than three years to rule on North Carolina’s academic fraud case, would need to oversee at least 130 football teams each week.
Lindley said he believes the integrity of athletic trainers would prevent them from “falsifying a release to create a competitive advantage.”
The desire for a competitive advantage is why Illinois coach Lovie Smith waited until just before kickoff against Kent State to announce the suspension of five players. Despite the misdirection, the Illini trailed 17-3 at halftime before rallying for a 31-24 victory. But those who bet on Illinois (minus 16) lost.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost said Tuesday he intends to guard information about the injured knee of Martinez, his starting quarterback, until the last possible moment.
“As long as they don’t tell me I have to (reveal it), I won’t,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smith said Monday of his starting quarterback: “AJ Bush injured his hamstring a little bit, and we will see how it goes this week.”
“I don’t see any upside to sitting on information,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “Everything trickles out at some point, so it’s better being proactive.”
The Hawkeyes still managed to beat Northern Illinois 33-7.