Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Will Bo go vs. Utah? Somebody knows.
Pac-12 coaches play the injury game.
Decide for yourself if it was a tactical smokescreen or whether Oregon Ducks’ receiver Kris Hutson simply slipped up. Las Vegas bookmakers took Hutson at his word this week when he confessed to reporters: “Obviously, Bo is down, so it’s the next man up.”
He was talking about quarterback Bo Nix.
The bookmakers heard and began scrambling.
The Ducks opened as a 3-point favorite over Utah for Saturday’s game at Autzen Stadium. Oregon’s coaching staff won’t say if Nix will play or even what his injury is. The quarterback isn’t talking, either. But after Hutson’s comments, the point-spread reversed.
Utah is now a 3-point favorite.
Will Nix play on Saturday?
The star quarterback appeared to suffer a right-knee injury in the fourth quarter of Oregon’s loss to Washington last week. He left the game, but re-entered for the final five snaps. Was it a ‘charley horse’? A sprain? A bruise? Ligament damage that will require season-ending surgery?
“I don’t want to be specific to that,” UO coach Dan Lanning told me on Thursday. “I think that creates a competitive advantage to the opponent. We’ll just say it wasn’t his pinky finger — that’s not what it is.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham studied the injury to Nix while watching film. The Utes coach told me his team is planning to see Nix, and not back-up Ty Thompson or even Jay Butterfield, as the starter on Saturday night.
“We’d be shocked if it’s not Bo Nix,” Whittingham said. “He’s such a tough competitor. He’s going to be there if at all possible.”
Lanning isn’t alone in keeping injuries a secret. Whittingham isn’t alone in refusing to trust what anyone outside his circle says. Few college head coaches willingly share injury information. The process is far murkier than the transparency of the NFL, which mandates that teams make injuries known.
Are you tired of the secrecy?
This injury “game” hurts fans more than it helps the teams. It impacts those wagering on the outcomes and harms fans who buy tickets to see their favorite players. I also wonder how much a surprise scratch impacts the quality of first-quarter play in the college game vs. the NFL.
If a player doesn’t practice in the NFL, it must be noted in the daily practice report. The NFL’s Friday injury report also lets the public know who is “out” or “questionable” for that weekend’s game. Teams are fined for violations of the protocol.
Given the revenue and fan-investment involved in college football games, I asked several Pac-12 Conference sources if the league might consider mandated injury reports for conference games.
The answers I got may surprise you.
First, though, let’s ask the bookmakers. Jay Kornegay is the executive vice president of Superbook Sports Operations, the world’s largest sports book. He runs sports wagering in six states. Kornegay told me on Friday that the bookmakers get their information on college teams the same way the public does.
“Most of this information is on Twitter,” Kornegay said. “That’s as best as we can do. It’s about following the right people. We monitor that all the time, especially when it’s an impact player like a quarterback.”
Kornegay said competing sports books will alert each other as a courtesy when they hear about key injuries. He supports the concept of college conferences instituting an injury report, but only if it’s legitimate.
“As a bookmaker, transparency is our friend,” he said. “When you try to withhold an injury, only a select few will know. It’s what drives us crazy. When only a select few know, that’s when it’s a problem. The information leaks out. It gets in the wrong hands.”
It might surprise you that Whittingham, in his 18th season as the head coach at Utah, is also in favor of an injury report. Earlier this season, the Utes were without starting quarterback Cam Rising for a road game at Washington State. Rising’s absence was a surprise game-time decision. He’d apparently battled a nagging knee injury for a couple of weeks.
“We’re one of those schools that have played it close to the vest ever since I’ve been the head coach,” Whittingham said. “My philosophy has always been, if you don’t have to tip your hand or divulge anything, why would you? It doesn’t make any sense. That being said, if there was a uniform policy or procedure like the NFL, we’d be happy to conform to it.”
Oregon State plays at Arizona State this week. The Beavers have some injuries themselves, but won’t go into depth about them, either. OSU coach Jonathan Smith did say his team was “trying to get some guys back.” Smith added that he’d welcome a conference-wide injury report, too.
“If it was the same across the board, the protocol of reporting injuries, there would be some real beauty about that,” Smith said. “I get sent to me every article about Arizona State about who is practicing, who is available, and there’s some advantage in that.”
Lanning isn’t talking about Nix. I guess I wouldn’t either if I were him. Not unless the other coaches in the league were also required to divulge similar injuries. Football coaches are notoriously private and controlling.
“I’ve been part of games where you have no idea who you’re going to face,” Lanning said. “So what do you end up doing? You end up creating three different game plans. If it’s this guy — it’s this. If it’s this guy — it’s this. We’re certainly more paranoid. It’s kind of the nature of the game. I get it. That’s our job. You don’t want to give anybody a competitive advantage.”
No other college football conference has an injury report. Would the Pac-12 want to be the first to adopt one?
The league didn’t offer an official answer. But one source said the Pac-12 is “discussing the matter to see if there’s a path forward.” There are student-privacy laws to consider, I’m told. But that feels like a raging excuse given the breadth of information the public receives about athletes.
The source also said that any time the implementation of a league-wide injury report gets brought up, the Pac-12 can’t get consensus from its football coaches.
I went 3-for-3 with the coaches this week. But I was asking them publicly. Maybe the answers would be different if they were polled behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny. Maybe they’re all so caught up trying to find an edge, they don’t see how silly the secrecy sometimes looks to the rest of us.
It’s like Whittingham said: “Everyone’s worried that someone’s getting a little bit of a leg up on you by some sort of intel or whatever the case may be. Coaches have that phobia.”
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