SEC moving toward adopting injury reports for football games. Coaches weigh in on change

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla.—In the 48 hours before a high-stakes game with major playoff implications last December, both Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and then Alabama coach Nick Saban fielded questions about whether key offensive players would be able to go.

There may be less uncertainty about injured players in the SEC’s future.

The conference is talking about rolling out “availability reports” to provide some consistent answers to information watched closely by those who bet on games.

“It sounds like that’s where we’re going,” Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said.

It may change what seems a constant lead-up to SEC games.

Before the Georgia played Alabama in the SEC championship game last season, tight end Brock Bowers and wide receiver Ladd McConkey had missed the previous game due to injuries.

“They have not gotten much practice in during the week,” Smart said the night before the game on the SEC Network. “We haven't been able to take reps with those guys. They'll try to go for the game.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart stands on the sideline during the team's 2024 G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart stands on the sideline during the team's 2024 G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium.

A day earlier Saban addressed leading rusher Jase McClellan’s foot injury.

“He’s not been able to do a lot. I’d say that we’d have to say he’s probably questionable for the game at this point,” Saban said.

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Bowers and McConkey ended up playing but McClellan did not in Alabama’s 27-24 win.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey spoke to coaches this week about the availability reports at the league’s spring meetings, something his staff has looked at since last summer. He said no decision on it is expected this week.

“I did acknowledge it’s a cultural change for us but things are changing around us,” Sankey said. “This is intended to be the beginning of a discussion and not a decision. That’s how I framed it.”

Smart said he learned about the SEC initiative before coming to the meeting this week.

“If it helps with gambling then I’m all for it,” said Smart, who wanted to learn more details about it. “If it’s geared to getting knowledge out there that people are trying to get from our student-athletes and it protects them, I’m certainly for that.”

As sports gambling becomes more ingrained in the athletic landscape, Sankey is concerned about the “widespread,” contact between athletes and others on campus including in class and those on support staffs.

“When you start to see the number of dollars being bet on legalized sports gambling around college sports, not just football, but men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and baseball and softball, all those catch your attention,” Sankey said. “We have to be thoughtful about how information is managed.”

NCAA President Charlie Baker said on the governing body’s website. "We know some bettors are harassing student-athletes and officials, so that's why we are advocating for policy changes at the state level and launching monitoring tools around championships to refer serious threats to law enforcement.”

The Big Ten added publicly available injury reports last season with schools required to submit them at least two hours prior to kickoff.

NFL teams are required to list players on injury reports daily starting on Wednesday by saying whether they practiced. On Friday, a game report is released that lists players as questionable, doubtful or out.

“The NFL model obviously works for them,” Smart said.

The NFL on its operations website says of the injury report: “The information must be credible, accurate, timely, and specific within the guidelines of the policy, which is of paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of the game.”

Whether that happens if it comes to the SEC where coaches are often highly guarded with putting out information that they feel could put them at a competitive disadvantage remains to be seen.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin Wednesday afternoon said more transparency is better.

"We have a tradition in college athletics of trying to be competitive in every single thing we do," he said. "That's an area that I don't know if it really matters, the competitive piece. We need to be up front."

Said Texas A&M football coach Mike Elko: “Like everything, I’m sure people will try to find a way to escape the system."

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian has a solution.

“Fine us,” he said. “That’s what they do in the NFL. …If I try to game the system and I don’t report a guy, fine us. We all like the money that we make. That’s a really simple way to get us to adhere to the rules.”

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: SEC football injury reports for conference games being discussed