Pat Narduzzi's issues with injuries and the media

Pitt released its first ACC-mandated injury report of the 2016 season Thursday, forcing coach Pat Narduzzi to leak injury information that he’d rather not let the public know. Is a coach’s refusal to comment on injury-related news a big deal? And how can this issue be resolved?

When Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi came through the doors at Pitt in December of 2015, the coach pieced together an introductory press conference as impressive as any.

That day, and for much of his first year, Narduzzi was brash with reporters. When asked a question, he didn't seem to hesitate before speaking. Over the course of that 2015 season, he told things exactly how they were and even took public shots at other schools and coaches.

That was the old Narduzzi. He's since transformed.

In 2016’s spring practices, Narduzzi continually told the media that tight end Chris Clark was OK, that Clark wasn't around the practice facility because "he had something to do" and that fullback Jaymar Parrish would be "fine" despite both players' sidelined status. Turns out, Clark had year-ending knee surgery and Parrish was seen at the practice facility and on campus wheeling himself around on an odd, seated scooter-type contraption.

This practice carried on into fall camp, where Narduzzi announced that, as part of a new policy, he will not discuss or comment on injured players or players who are assumed to be injured, showing that, now, he’ll approach injury-related discussion with more caution.

Is it a good idea? Perhaps.

Will shunning the public from knowing the health status of a player heading into game week or even week two of spring camp translate to wins? This is a question we may never know the answer to.

The idea that coaches might be at a competitive disadvantage when injury updates are leaked has always existed, but it notoriously gained popularity when Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, began refusing to discuss injury-related matters. Once Belichick started doing it, other NFL coaches followed suit. The trend soon trickled down to the college game, where Lane Kiffin began a similar policy during his years at Southern Cal. In 2012, Kiffin suspended a local reporter for two weeks because the reporter had investigated the health status of USC’s kicker, who, the reporter found, had surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Pitt wide receiver Dontez Ford injured his upper body in week two against Penn State, and Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Ford had season-ending surgery to repair a broken collarbone. When Narduzzi has been asked about Ford’s status over the past two weeks, he has thrown together a combination of answers consisting of, “He’s a guy we hope is back,” “We’ll see,” “I’m not going to comment on injuries” and “We’ll have him back sooner than later.”

In this instance, Narduzzi and other coaches could actually be victimized by a lack of NCAA regulation.

Currently, the ACC makes coaches release league-mandated reports with injured players listed under "probable," "out" or "out for season." However, the listed details of the injuries are often stark and unadorned. On the first injury report Pitt issued to local reporters this season during the Pitt-North Carolina week, players either had "upper body" injuries or "lower body" injuries. These are issued every Thursday before Saturday games.

With such vagueness, many reporters still feel inclined to ask for additional specifics, to which Narduzzi rolls his eyes, gives an aggravated laugh and says something in the realm of "OK. Next question."

If the NCAA implemented a policy similar to the NFL’s in which every coach is forced to issue weekly and detailed injury reports, college coaches might have fewer challenges to worry about during game week and in the offseason.

Just about every Monday last football season at Pitt’s press conference room (and likely every week of every year at every press conference room across Division I), Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was asked by reporters if Player A was, in fact, injured. Then came the standard "how long Player A would be sidelined for" question. Sometimes, Narduzzi was additionally asked how Player A injured himself and what Player A was doing to recover from the injury.

In 2012, then-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez began constructing weekly injury reports modeled off the NFL. That season, Rodriguez told the New York Times that he had enjoyed the policy because it has limited the running loop of injury-related questions he was asked, saving time for the coach to address more pressing matters.

“From a headache standpoint, it has been much easier,” Rodriguez told the Times after implementing the policy.

Throughout the NFL, coaches can be fined for sending out falsified injury reports. In 2009, Eric Mangini was fined $125,000 for not mentioning Brett Farve’s torn bicep in his team’s injury report.

In college, coaches can’t be fined (it’s been suggested that the NCAA impose fines on college coaches), but they can be penalized for different wrongdoings.

Is it possible for the NCAA to enforce a weekly injury report that forces all coaches to reveal the specific health issues that injured players face every week? I don't see why not.

In the end, such a rule would potentially benefit the coaches more than it would the media and fans.

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