Sportsbooks rely on injury reports to set lines. Bettors rely on them to make sound wagers. Currently, collegiate sports do not require teams to provide player injury information before games.
Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher would like to see that change.
Texas one of last states with no legal sports betting
Sports betting is not legal in Texas, which is frustrating when you consider how sports crazy the state is. A recent poll found that less than 30% of Texans oppose legal Texas sports betting.
Currently, 33 states, including four of the 11 SEC states – Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas – allow sports betting. Another seven have legalized it and are creating betting systems.
Texas is one of the last holdouts.
Coaches seek a system that’s fair
In this new era of sports betting, wagering on college sports has exploded, but injury reporting has not kept up. The lack of timely injury reporting hinders not only bettors and bookmakers, but coaches as well. In the eyes of some, it damages the overall integrity of the game.
College football coaches are tight-lipped about their playbooks to maintain a competitive advantage. Some extend that secrecy to player health. At an SEC coaches teleconference, Fisher said he would support an injury reporting system as long as it’s fair to all teams.
“If it’s universal across the board, whatever it is, good bad or indifferent, I think it’s always fair. If it’s fair and good for the kids, then it’s something that could happen, for sure.”
For Fisher and others, fairness equates to compliance. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, who dealt with injury reports when he coached the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, reiterated this point.
“There’s all kinds of things that have trickled down (from the NFL) that may seem like it would make sense. But if they make rules, folks would have to abide by them.”
Collegiate injury reports must protect student privacy
In 2019, the NCAA Gambling Working Group proposed a first-ever standardized national player availability report for college sports. It would require coaches to list players as “available,” “possible” or “unavailable” for that week’s game. The program, however, has yet to be implemented.
One of the issues stalling implementation is player privacy. While professional organizations such as the NFL mandate the release of weekly injury reports, information about players at the collegiate level is protected. The Family Educational Rights Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protect student privacy.
A potential workaround for this is a less-specific injury report, similar to what is offered in the NHL. Instead of listing the specific injury, the report could describe it as an “upper body injury” or “lower body injury.”
Gamesmanship dictates how much coaches share
Currently, college football coaches are all over the map in terms of how they release injury information.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said in a recent Dawgnation.com article that it’s hard to hide injury information these days so he doesn’t try to.
“My take is if I know a player is definitely out, I say it as early as I know.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart is also fairly transparent about player injuries. But the Bulldogs are among eight FBS programs that does not release an updated travel/dress chart before games.
Some coaches opt for more transparency, while others practice subterfuge. They conceal an injured player until the very last minute to give opposition less time to prepare.
Then there are the 2019 Florida Gators. They wore their helmets but no jerseys during warmups. Other teams couldn’t tell who was injured or even who was playing what position. That led to a 2020 SEC rule requiring players wear jerseys or display their numbers during warmups within 90 minutes of kickoff.
Not enough trust in an injury report system
The varied approaches of different teams to injury reporting has led to general skepticism around the practice. It has also caused bettors to rely on social media posts, hearsay, and other second- and third-hand accounts of player availability.
If universal injury reports aren’t established in college sports, it would be easy to envision people stalking players to see if they’re injured in order to get an edge on a bet.
In the end, coaches will have to be convinced that the information being released does not give opponents an advantage. Baylor coach Matt Rhule recently told CBSSports.com that most coaches would probably be reluctant to releasing injury information.
“I think as coaches we’re probably always wired not to give away the game plan. We try to do what’s best for our kids. I think it has to be a bigger conversation.”