Kirby Smart is like most football coaches when it comes to injuries. He would prefer to keep that information inside his program.
In the modern news age, that can be difficult. But earlier in the week on Tuesday, Smart revised Georgia’s media policy on how the program wants injuries to be reported.
The new policy states that all injuries cannot be reported until Smart is asked and addresses them publicly. It also states that reporters are prohibited from “releasing information and/or photo/video of players who are working out separately with the sports medicine staff and players (other than quarterbacks) wearing black practice jerseys.” Injuries that occur when reporters are at practice were also banned.
On Thursday, Smart was given the chance to explain his new injury policy with the media. First, he said he would like to inform an injured player’s parents first before the media reports an injury if it happens in front of reporters. This occurred last Thursday, when freshman defensive back Deangelo Gibbs went down with a shoulder injury in front of reporters. Gibbs’ mother found about it through a published story before Georgia could relay the information, which upset Smart.
But Smart then mentioned what he considers a bigger picture for the new policy. That has to do with preventing other teams, during the football season, from accessing injury information.
“It would be a big disadvantage in the season for us, for our opponents to know every kid that’s injured, every kid that's out, every kid that’s not practicing," Smart said. “When that information gets out to our opponent it can be a detriment to our team. I’m trying to protect the team with that information.”
Injuries are a part of football, given the violent nature of the sport. Reporting those injuries, indicating which players will be available or not for games, is a major part of covering a football beat.
Not too long after Smart’s media policy was released, five beat reporters objected and emailed a letter to Georgia’s sports information department stating that “the Georgia football media policy goes too far beyond the scope of what is acceptable in our eyes.” It has since been expressed to reporters covering the team that there is potential for a revised injury policy.
At least one former Georgia player expressed public support for Smart’s new injury policy. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who was selected in the third round by the New York Jets in the 2016 NFL draft, responded favorably to a tweet Tuesday on the topic.
“Should've been a rule a long time ago,” Jenkins wrote.
For college football coaches, keeping as little information from each other is a major part of preparation each week. While reporting injury information is a part of a beat reporter’s job, Smart would like to see injuries disclosed evenly across the conference. There is no universal policy at the NCAA or SEC level dictating how a program reveals such injury information.
According to SEC spokesman Chuck Dunlap, any kind of injury policy has not been talked about at the league level.
“Injuries are handled on a school-by-school/coach-by-coach basis,” Dunlap said in an email. “There has been no formal discussion of a league-wide policy.”
The NFL requires its teams to release an injury report to reporters. NFL policy mandates that teams list each player who has an injury and describe whether he participated in full, was limited or missed practice from Wednesday through Friday of each game week. On the Friday before games are played, a designation of questionable, doubtful or out is then assigned.
Each NFL team takes a different approach. Some are more forthright with their injuries. Others, such as the New England Patriots, are vague by listing just about everyone with an injury as questionable for the upcoming game. If the NFL determines a franchise is in violation of the injury policy, it can impose a fine.
Smart would be OK with an SEC injury report of some sort but stopped short of saying he supports such a measure.
“I think if everybody did it that would be great,” Smart said. “To say I’m in favor of it or against it, I’m not either way. I just think that obviously puts everyone in the same position. I’m going to know the same thing about whoever we’re playing, just like they know about us. That’s why they do it in the NFL. They do it that way because it makes a little more parity, a little more even across the league.
“I think it makes things fair. But I’m not sitting here saying I want it by any means.”