Episode 3: College Injury Reports, Larry Scott has schedule ideas

You're getting a bonus issue this week, because I love you, and also things keep happening

So, I know I said this is a twice-a-week newsletter, and that is certainly my intention. But the early response has been great, lots of stuff is happening, and well, I thought I’d give you a bonus one.

Maybe we’ll get a national injury report in college football this year?

The NFL has had an injury report for about as long as we’ve had an NFL. It’s not always the most accurate document in the world, but it’s useful for fans, and establishes some baseline information for fantasy football fanatics and other gamblers. It’s a nice thing.

College football doesn’t have one of those. But we might be getting one. Per CBS, “The NCAA Gambling Working Group will propose the first-ever standardized national player availability report for college sports.” Via the article:

Later this month, the working group will propose a pilot program that would have coaches list players as "available," "possible" or "unavailable" for that week's game without mentioning a specific body part or injury.

If adopted, the proposal would be in place for the 2019 season. It would be instituted because of concerns regarding the integrity of college games in this new era of state-sponsored sports gambling

Earlier this week, some Big 12 coaches came out in favor of a national injury report, so long as everybody else was doing it too. Last year, the Big Ten asked the NCAA for a national policy as well.

FWIW, the NCAA pushed back on this report, calling it “premature”

Getting just about any coach to give the public more information than they are legally required to is a fool’s errand. College coaches treat virtually nearly information morsel, even laughably trivial ones, as state secrets. We’ve got coaches who don’t even like to give out depth charts. If a coach thinks informing the public puts his team at the tiniest potential disadvantage, it ain’t happening…even if informing the public doesn’t actually create a disadvantage. But if the NCAA membership mandated it across the board, things might change.

One major issue that has to be navigated is player privacy. FERPA (Family Educational Rights Privacy Act), and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance would make wholesale releasing of player health data impossible and illegal.

In my personal experience, I’ve noticed schools will go to great length to hide behind FERPA when it comes to say, FOIA requests, or releasing anything potentially embarrassing or complicated…but if there’s something about a kid a coach or a school wants known, it’ll get leaked.

I was a little surprised to see fans on Twitter criticizing this plan. There are important details to work out (who penalizes a coach or school for non-compliance? How vague can the report be to prevent gambling scandals without threatening student safety or privacy?), but the general gist seems sound.

We’ve had pretty serious college athletic scandals involving gambling, (especially point-shaving), and moving some baseline injury information out of the shadows might help prevent more in the future. As a media person, I’m also always for giving the public as much accurate information about their programs as possible. I think fans want that too.

The elephant in the room, of course, is enforcement. Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times smartly points out that the ACC had something similar to this, Jimbo Fisher lied about it, and well, nothing happened…other than Syracuse getting mad. If there’s no punishment for non-compliance, nobody is going to comply.

I’m not sure if this gets done in time for the 2019 season. But in the abstract, I think it’d be a good idea. But the devil, as they say, is in the details.

The Pac-12’s Larry Scott has some opinions about scheduling and money

I think if you’re a fan, you don’t really want to know who your conference commissioner is. You might not even want to know who your athletic director is. You’re hoping for quiet, boring competence. If you know your commissioner’s name, chances are, it’s because they’re in the news a lot, and that usually is because they’re either being criticized, or they’re saying something stupid.

In a related story, most folks know who Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is.

If you mention the guy on Twitter, Reddit, or in the comments section of any college football blog, you’re going to find readers clamoring to FIRE LARRY SCOTT. The league has had a rough stretch of headlines, from poor performance in football and men’s basketball, to officiating, to the financial struggles of the Pac-12 network, to Scott’s own personality. Some of those things are Scott’s fault. Some are not. I summed up situation here, and we can go into more detail in additional newsletters.

Scott spoke to reporters on a variety of topics Wednesday evening. There’s probably enough material in his full remarks for three newsletters, so I’ll try to focus more on scheduling and money here.

On Thursday afternoon, the Pac-12 issued a release confirming that they are, in fact, switching to a 20 game basketball schedule, starting in the 2020-2021 season. They’ll also play two conference games in November/December.

The Big Ten and ACC have shifted towards 20 conference games as well, and other major leagues are at least considering the possibility. That’s good news for conference network inventory, media partners and casual fans. After all, your typical Utah fan probably wants to watch more basketball games against Colorado or Cal instead of oh, Southern Utah and Idaho State.

But this is bad news for any mid-majors hoping for more chances at resume-boosting wins. After all, most of these leagues also have built-in schedule obligations, (like the Big Ten-ACC Challenge), and more conference games really eats into their total flexibility. If all the power conference teams are only playing themselves, who is Loyola, or Davidson, or Nevada supposed to beat in order to prove themselves to the selection committee?

The football scheduling bit makes me roll my eyes. Equating schedule strength by Power Conference membership (or by playing or not playing FCS teams) is stupid. Rutgers, Oregon State and Kansas have been some of the worst teams in all of college football over the last several years, but they’re P5 programs. Boise State, UCF, Cincinnati and a half dozen other programs are better, habitually, than plenty of power teams. FCS playoff teams are often better than at least a third of FBS. It’s a dumb metric.

In the year of Our Lord 2019, we should have the powers to evaluate schedule strength on the merits of the team alone, not their conference designation.

The Pac-12 plays nine conference games. Neat! But if that ninth game is Oregon State or Cal, you don’t deserve a medal.

Also, nobody else is going to be dragged into football scheduling parity unless ESPN (the closest thing we have to a college football commissioner) makes them. The Pac-12 plays more conference games because they’re financially required to. Scott basically admits it here, their fans aren’t going to show up if they don’t schedule games against noteworthy opponents. It doesn’t make them tougher or more moral or whatever.

Other leagues that don’t face that same pressure, like the SEC, won’t change, no matter how much Pac-12 or Big Ten officials complain.

If Scott is hoping to leapfrog say, the Big Ten or the SEC in media dough come 2024, let me stop him right there. That isn’t happening. Geography and the value of member brands will make that impossible. Scott can’t make Colorado residents care about college football the same way Ohioans do, and he certainly can’t do it in five years.

If a non-traditional cable company doesn’t step in to drive up the bidding, I doubt the Pac-12 passes anybody else up either. Part of that is bad timing. Part of that is stuff outside of their control. Part of that was some bad bets Scott made back in 2012, and that Pac-12 presidents didn’t press him on. Now, the league is seeking a cash infusion. I hate that idea, but maybe enough rich people don’t, and that’ll work out for them.

Ah yes. I too like to comfort myself with Ohio State’s synchronized swimming and women’s rowing prowess when somebody points out how they’ve struggled in the college football playoff since 2014. This is a great point that will surely appease critics. Sorry we sucked at basketball this year, our champion warrior-poets were too busy dominating water polo, chess, and powerwalking. Check those Director’s Cup standings, you unwashed Philistines.

And finally,

I mean, if any Pac-12 coaches told Scott “look, we’re totally screwed”, I doubt he would share that with Mandel. But as much fun as it might be to take swings at Scott, I think he’s actually right about this. The Pac-12 is not as rich as the other power leagues. It never will be. But it has hired plenty of good coaches, and caught a bunch of bad luck all at once. There’s no reason to think things can’t improve at Oregon, or UCLA (if Chip Kelly decides to start recruiting, anyway), or Utah, or with Arizona and UCLA basketball.

And if just a few of those things happen, the whole narrative changes. Nobody hangs up a banner for MOST PROFITABLE CONFERENCE TELEVISION NETWORK. They hang them up for real titles. If the Pac-12 can get a few of those, the other stuff becomes moot.

And I think they have enough money to at least compete for some.

Thanks again for supporting Extra Points. If you’ve got questions, comments, feedback, tips, or requests, I’d love to hear from you. I’m @MattSBN on Twitter, and Matt dot Brown at SBNation dot com on email. And if this is informative or interesting to you, maybe tell a pal.