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Editor column: Sports editors want PAC-12 to adopt player injury reporting policy

Published November 16, 2012 3:22 pm

College football • Lack of formal policy too often leaves reporters, coaches at odds over access to information.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A heated question in college football this fall is the same one I hear often from my children: "Why should I do it if he doesn't?"

In football's case, the "it" is "report player injuries," and coaches who ask the question make a valid point.

Why should one school routinely report injuries when their opponents don't, creating a competitive disadvantage?

The Pac-12 is among leagues that don't require uniform injury reporting, so schools must address the issue on their own. Too often, their individual protocols leave football writers and coaches at odds.

At the University of Southern California, for example, coach Lane Kiffin in September banned Los Angeles Daily News reporter Scott Wolf from practice after Wolf reported kicker Andre Heidari would be sidelined following knee surgery.

Kiffin later rescinded the ban after sports editors banded together in protest and Wolf insisted he learned of Heidari's injury from a source outside practice. But the coach reiterated a USC policy that prohibits reporters from writing about injuries they observe at practice.

Other Pac-12 schools, including the University of Utah, also invoked or restated similar policies. At the U., the policy says there may be "no injury reports from practice based on observation, including reports on players who are not practicing, or are practicing on a limited basis, due to injury."

Failure to comply "will result in complete closure of practice to the media."

Journalists have a problem with such policies because player injuries are news that we are obligated to report.

"We are put in the impossible position of potentially learning something of intense reader interest that we would have to violate a policy to write about," Tribune sports editor Joe Baird said.

The USC incident and others led Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott to suggest he may pursue a uniform reporting policy, but that effort has been on hold since Scott met last month with league athletic directors and opposition surfaced.

Journalists, however, have not tabled the debate. We maintain fans want — and are entitled to — this information.

Baird and other sports editors who gathered in Los Angeles last weekend for the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) regional meeting agreed to join with other journalism organizations to take the matter and other access issues up with the NCAA.

"We plan simply to engage the NCAA in a discussion … and see what steps can be taken to resolve our issues," APSE president Gerry Ahern said, adding the meeting is being scheduled for sometime this month.

Sports editors favor an NFL-style reporting policy that would require all schools to report the same basic injury information on the same day each week.

"Such a policy would level the playing field for schools while also allowing us to do our jobs," Baird said. "Right now, we're operating in the worst of both worlds."

The U. would be fine with such a policy, U. senior associate athletics director Liz Abel said.

"Our coach has said he'd comply with whatever rule there is," she said.

Barring a change, coaches will rightfully keep asking why they should share information to their disadvantage, and football fans will be denied information they should have.

Lisa Carricaburu is a managing editor. Reach her at lisac@sltrib.com or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.