No ‘instant friends’: Big Ten backs football injury reports

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Conference commissioner Jim Delany speaks at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Monday.

Chicago — College football coaches aren’t typically in love with the idea of talking about injuries, but if it’s up to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, they might need to start getting a whole lot more transparent with the status of their rosters.

Kicking off Big Ten media days Monday, Delany said he is in favor of teams offering a weekly update on the availability of its players, much like the requirement of NFL teams.

“I don't call it an injury report as much as I think about it as player availability,” Delany said. “Whether that comes out of an injury or whether it comes out of eligibility or comes out of some transgression of one kind or another, I think we need to do that.

“I think we need to do that nationally. And I think the reason we need to do that is probably — with the exception of the home field — the availability of personnel is critical to people who are interested in gambling legally or illegally. And therefore, when players are unavailable, we should know that, if they're probably or likely. I don't have the model code, but I do think it's something that we should do and probably should have done it before, but certainly should do it now.”

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Many coaches, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio included, typically avoid discussing player injuries. While Dantonio has offered occasional updates, he will usually only openly talk about an injury if that player will be lost for the season, or at least for an extended period. At Michigan, coach Jim Harbaugh also doesn’t discuss injuries and doesn’t even offer a dress list on game days.

But the Supreme Court’s decision last spring that gives states the right to legalize sports gambling could change things dramatically for coaches.

Harbaugh said he’d have no problem changing his approach to injuries.

“Yeah, I would be fine with that,” Harbaugh said. “Want to do an injury report? We can do an injury report.”

Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck agrees, but wants to limit the specific reasons why a player might be out, following Delany’s lead with the term “availability report” as opposed to “injury report.”

“Is somebody going to be available or not available. That's all I want to know,” said Fleck, the former Western Michigan coach. “I don't need to know why, whether it's a suspension, whether it's an injury, whether it's a knee, whether it's grades, whether it's disciplines — I don't need to know all that.

“But I'm a huge advocate. I'd love to be able to see who is going to be able to play and not play. I think that creates different game-planning. It gives you a better advantage, but you're also giving somebody an advantage, so it's an equal playing field. I think teams have the right to know that.”

At Northwestern, coach Pat Fitzgerald gives regular injury updates — though Fitzgerald admitted to sometimes exaggerating that report — but the coach wants the emphasis to be on protecting the players.

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“I think it's, first and foremost, important that we educate our guys and the understanding of the issues that surround gambling and understand from a standpoint of what may end up happening to them in dorms, people asking them questions that maybe they've never been asked before,” Fitzgerald said. “These new instant friends that they have as true freshmen, things of that nature. So the education piece is really going to be important.

“If we move forward to where we have to have a fully transparent conference-wide or national one, I'd have no problem with that, as long as we adhere to it. There needs to be accountability. If there's not accountability to it, then I'll do whatever I have to do to protect our players, first and foremost, and protect our program second.”

Harbaugh, too, emphasized educating players on dealing with folks involved in gambling.

“As far as gambling, don't associate with gamblers, avoid it like the plague,” Harbaugh said. “Don't walk away from that, run.”

Delany’s position echoes that of other major conference leaders. Last week, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford talked about establishing a similar report, said he doesn't expect any change for this season but hopes it could be in place for 2019.

“I think that reduces to some degree people you don’t really want coming around players and managers and doctors and anybody associated with the program, or coaches, and trying to get information in an underhanded kind of way,” Swofford said. “My general feeling and our coaches general feeling is the same: That is probably something that needs to happen on a national basis. I don’t think it will happen for this season. I suspect it will be for next season. But I will be surprised if that is not in place.”