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What are the Odds of James Franklin Sharing Penn State Injury Reports in 2019?

by on May 09, 2019 8:00 PM

James Franklin does not talk about injuries.

Or suspended players, for that matter.

At least with the media. But that might change.

You can bet that gambling has everything to do with it. As more states legalize sports betting — Pennsylvania is already there — the odds of a weekly availability report being instituted for college football by the NCAA continue to increase.

The NCAA is considering implementing the “first-ever standardized national player availability reports for college sports,” Dennis Dodds of CBS Sports reported last week.

And it could take effect as soon as the 2019 season.

The NCAA Gambling Working Group is expected to propose a system where, weekly during the season, college coaches would list players as “available,” “possible” or “unavailable.” Reasons for the latter two categories would not be designated; they could be based on such factors as injuries, discipline or academics.

Which won’t make Franklin — who only talks injuries when they are definitely season-ending, and even at that he spoons out such news judiciously — happy.

However, the bulk of the Big Ten is behind the idea. In fact, last summer it was conference commissioner Jim Delany and the Big Ten athletic directors (as a group) who suggested the idea to the NCAA.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is in favor of it, which is kind of ironic, since he is very secretive when it comes to the Wolverines’ roster, depth chart and other such indicators of player readiness. Harbaugh said last summer he’d “be fine with that,” as did Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald already delivers a limited weekly availability report to the media.

Here’s what Delany had to say about such a report:

“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 comes out of eligibility or comes out of some transgression at one time or another, I think we need to do that. I think we need to do that nationally.”

WHAT JAMES SAYS

At Penn State, Franklin said he is staunchly against any such report, for three main reasons that he outlined last summer:

Player confidentiality: “Part of it is our players’ health is personal. There’s some HIPAA laws when it comes to those types of things.”

A competitive edge: “So if you have a weakness, why are you going to put your weakness out on the table and let people know what those things are? For us, we’re going to try to gain as much information as we can about our opponent. We’re going try to limit the amount of information that we give to our opponent.”

Enforcement: “What I don’t understand at this point is how are we going to enforce this rule? Is this going to be a compliance (department) enforced rule on each campus? Is this an NCAA rule? What are the penalties for it? I think we have to be careful because we have enough rules right now that we have a hard time enforcing. And now we add more?”

Makes me wonder, too, what happens if a player is listed as “unavailable” on a Tuesday but plays on Saturday? A lot can happen with five days of rest and rehab. How often can that happen before further, stricter guidelines (accompanied by fines) are instituted?

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

The bottom line is that providing the information is all about the betting line. (With Dabo Swinney now making $9.3 million and Franklin pulling in $6-million-plus a year in total compensation, it would be hypocritical for big-time college football coaches to rail against the evils of money infiltrating their sport.)

On one hand, an availability report caters to the bettor, who wants as much legitimate information as possible when making a wager.

“With the exception of home field, the availability of personnel is critical to the people who are interested in gambling, legally or illegally,” Delany said. “Therefore, when players are unavailable, we should know that – that they’re probable or likely.”

In addition, there’s also the idea that the more information out there, the better. A big-time program like Penn State has scores of “insiders,” of one degree or another. A couple dozen interns work in Lasch; there are countless staffers and support personnel; Franklin invites a literal cast of thousands to practice, from community organizations and well-heeled boosters and potential donors to high-profile Old Main executives. Not to mention that players she info with family members, classmates and assorted hangers-on. Those message-board posters are sometimes right.

There is the potential that if reliable availability reports are made public, the value of insider information — and action — on games would be reduced. For example, if a Penn State student sees the starting quarterback hobble into the Forum on crutches for a sociology class the Tuesday of a Whiteout game, that potentially valuable info wouldn’t be as crucial if later in the day Franklin announces at his weekly press conference that The QB is “possible” or “unavailable.”

THE ACC AND THE NFL

It’s not a new idea, as Fitzgerald at Northwestern has shown.

According to Dodds, “For the last seven years, from 2011-17, ACC coaches issued injury reports for conference games only. Two days before any game, they were compelled to list injured players probable, questionable, doubtful or out.”

The NFL requires weekly injury reports. According to the league’s website, “The policy requires that teams provide credible, accurate and specific information about injured players to the league office, their opponents, local and national media, and the league’s broadcast partners each week during the regular season and postseason.”

That includes multiple mid-week reports of which players practiced, with notations of injuries, as well as notice of game availability.

College players are not pros. And thus, coaches typically share little about their injuries, often citing HIPPA laws — the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that strives to keep citizens’ medical records private and confidential.

There is a thin line, sometimes, as to what is both legal and ethical to disclose. Franklin rarely gets close to that line, preferring to offer little details in almost every case. Case in point: portal traveler Tommy Stevens’ “undisclosed injury” that at times was called a lower leg injury by the media, but never confirmed by Franklin or Stevens. In actuality, the quarterback had an injured foot that underwent two separate surgeries — information that was only recently shared publicly by Stevens’ family.

Athletes can waive their HIPPA rights, but few do. In some cases, collegiate football players do want their scope and extent of their injuries to be revealed publicly, so NFL scouts are not left guessing.

Currently, NCAA athletes are asked to voluntarily sign — thus, not breaking HIPPA laws — an authorization/consent form that allows physicians, trainers and health care personnel to disclose athletes’ “protected health information” to the NCAA for research and health/safety purposes. Such information is submitted confidentially, without any identifying singular athletes. Signing the form and participating is not mandatory and any scholarship support is not contingent on providing permission.

WHAT’S NEXT?

How close will a new availability rule veer into HIPPA territory? Surely, that’s something that Delany and the Big Ten AD’s — including Penn State’s Sandy Barbour — have considered. Same for the NCAA’s team of attorneys.

If the report is indeed instituted by the NCAA, circle 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, August 27 on your calendar. 

That’s the time and date of Franklin’s first game-week press conference of the 2019 season, five days ahead of the season-opener against Idaho in Beaver Stadium. We know he’ll be available.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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