Ralph's take on the ACC's injury reporting process

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College football seems to veer closer to the pro game every year.

Complex defenses. Attempt after attempt to get the time of game closer to three hours than 3:30. Injury reports.

That’s right, injury reports. Here’s a memo passed out at this week’s ACC Kickoff that details a “suggested minimum standard” that “is not an ACC rule subject to enforcement”:

Once football season begins, starting on the week before the first game, the following injury release policy will be in place:

1. Head football coach defers all injury-related questions to primary sports medicine contact for football.

2. On each Monday during the season, the school announces any players who are out for the season or are scheduled to have surgery.

3. No other questions/announcements regarding player injuries will be made until within 90 minutes of the end of Thursday practice (for a Saturday game; or Tuesday for a Thursday game).

4. On that day within 90 minutes of the end of practice, injured players’ playing status for the school’s next football game will be announced in one of five categories:

a. Definitely will play; b. Probable; c. Questionable; d. Doubtful; e. Out

From a coaches’ point of view, their perfect world would include completely malleable press corps who cared little for injuries and any of that “negative stuff.”

From a reporters’ point of view, their perfect world would allow them to roam freely at practice, see everything for what it is, and write whatever they wish without raising the cackles of those whom they cover.

Well, both of those scenarios are about as real as King Friday XIII’s Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Even if fans believe reporters should be poorly paid cheerleaders, wishing for something doesn’t make it so.

Well, maybe in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe it does.

Anyway, this could very easily lead to the re-opening of an issue that flared in College Park two seasons ago.

Long story sort-of-short: The Official Dot-Com Diva (at the time the Official Beat Diva) reported linebacker Wesley Jefferson was wearing a black noncontact jersey despite coach Ralph Friedgen’s threats to shut down practice. And as The Big Lead pointed out at the time, “this makie the Fridge no happy.”

So practice was shut down for the rest of the season, and Tyser Tower was no longer available to the press during the week. Reporters were shuffled into the offensive line meeting room to talk to players rather than stuck waiting by the locker room when practice ended.

The net effect was that reporters:

* Didn’t get to take attendance during the first five periods of practice

* Got to conduct interviews with players inside rather than outside – a bonus, really, once the frost is on the pumpkin

* Conducted often longer interviews with players, since their availability came after Ralph rather than before.

* Spent some extra time working in the student union (rather than in the accommodations offered across campus at Comcast Center – hey, it’s a public university).

Last year, practice re-opened and Maryland had so many injuries it didn’t matter what got reported and what didn’t. Ralph, sensing the swath of ailments around him, pretty much openly talked about the obvious injury problems. Really, there wasn’t much else to discuss.

Anyway, that took longer to explain than expected. The point of this entry was to get Ralph’s take on the new injury policy in a reasonable unfettered manner, since his opinion counts a bit more than mine. And it’s only fair to let him have an extended say on the subject:

I think it’s a good policy. My problem is to properly employ that policy, I’d probably have to shut down practice. I called Texas on it. They said their policy on it is they’re shut down until they decide to open it.

If you go through a year like I did last year, I get tired of answering questions about injuries. I’m really torn with this. We’ve talked about it. If I could get the media to work with me on it, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But when it becomes a competitive advantage [it’s not good]. The Baltimore Sun’s policy is that if they see it, they have to report it. So then I lose a competitive advantage.

To me, especially if the other coach is going to be doing it, what they’re going to say is Monday or Tuesday they’re going to say who’s not going to play this week and after Thursday’s practice what the status is of those players are that are injured and let it go at that. I’d be for that.

But if I open up practice and we’re reporting on the injured players and what they’re doing in practice and what they’re not doing in practice, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of this whole thing. I’m in a bind now because some of the other teams in the league are going to do this and I’m not going to know their status and they’re going to know my status because I’m in the Washington area.

Later on, I asked Ralph what his ideal injury policy (besides nothing at all) would be. There was an interesting tidbit in there that are in bold (my emphasis, not Ralph’s):

If I know early in the week this guy’s not going to play or maybe be limited, that could affect the game plan. Follow what I’m saying? Here I am, I’m in a situation where the other team we’re going to play is following that policy and you’re writing — or [Terrapin Times’] Keith [Cavanaugh]’s putting on the Internet — so-and-so ran with the third team today or was in team period. I buy a premium on all our sites for our opponents, too. Like I told you guys before, if you would want to know, I would tell you for your knowledge. You follow what I’m saying? I don’t have a problem working with you on that.

There’s some naivete all around here: From me that I never stopped to think football programs pump a couple hundred dollars a month into premium Internet sites for opponents, and from Ralph thinking reporters won’t write what they see – especially if it’s actually, you know, news.

A third-string linebacker getting carted out of practice? It’s a blip news-wise, and chances are most coaches would be willing to publicly divulge such information. After all, what is there to lose?

But suppose Darrius Heyward-Bey or Chris Turner didn’t practice or was limited. It would very much be news, and precisely the sort of thing Friedgen would not want known.

In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s neither a perfect world, for coaches nor for reporters.

At the risk of making what could be a self-fulfulling prophecy, here’s thinking this isn’t the last time this topic surfaces this season in College Park.

 – Patrick Stevens

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