Items of Import

With the focus off conference expansion and realignment, at least in the short term, there wasn't a great deal in terms of hard news from the Big East conference football media day, but there were a couple of interesting items that resulted from what amounts to a commercial for the league.

The first item was the word handed down from the mountaintop of the league –- that is, Commissioner John Marinatto. While it wasn't an official announcement, the message was delivered – no speculation about conference realignment or restructuring. No discussion of what might be, or what potentially could happen. The focus needs to be on the league, on the teams, and what they might accomplish.

Some observers will point to this approach as tantamount to killing the messenger. Conference-hoping certainly isn't dead, and the moment the NCAA men's basketball tournament concludes next April, the jockeying for position is likely to begin anew. Ignoring the issue won't make it go away, but Marinatto clearly doesn't want continued shots at the supposed weakness of the Big East to hold sway this fall and winter. And while he can't squelch the conversation from fans and the media, he can, for the most part, hold down any such talk from the league members.

In a way, this approach mirrors that of a recent NASCAR decision – speak no ill of the series. Two racers in that organization were fined in the five-figure range for comments deemed detrimental to the series – a sign that the top executives aren't going to condone anything that tears down their organization. The same logic is applied to pro leagues in terms of comments about officiating, where any critical comments are likewise met with stiff penalties.

The debate about the efficacy of such edicts will rage on. Does it help the league if its members aren't talking about a possible raid, or potential landing points? Well, yes and no. As noted previously, the conference two-step hasn't seen its final dance yet, so putting discussion aside won't send the band home. But really, what good would any further speculation do at this point?

For an example of the damage that could be done by such talk, you need look no further than Missouri. The Tigers' tickets to the Big Ten were all but punched, according to conventional wisdom, and many statements, some from very close to the program, were made concerning that topic. When it all fell through, Mizzou was left with some egg on its furry face. How will Missouri be received by the other remaining Big XII minus II this year? All those statement may come back to haunt them in some respect.

Suffice it to say that either choice has its downside. Allow talk to run rampant from coaches and players, and the focus is off performance and on a topic that shouldn't be dominant, at least at this time of year. Put the muzzle on, and immediate cries of free speech and the ostrich approach to the problem are heard. Marinatto chose the latter, and while the potential benefits of that decision are clear, so too are the potential negatives.

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The second item was the somewhat surprising announcement that the league will issue a pair of injury reports prior to each week's games. On Monday, a list of players who are out for the year, or undergoing surgery, will be sent out. Later in the week (likely Thursday or Friday, depending on the day of the games) a comprehensive report of injuries for each team, along with a likelihood of playing, will be provided.

This move raises a number of questions. First, it wasn't that long ago that several schools, including WVU, said that it couldn't offer any specifics on injuries due to HIPAA and privacy considerations. The way it was explained at the time, the athletes could speak about injuries, but school officials, including the coaches, couldn't be specific about players or their ailments. In practice, it varied from week to week. Sometimes, full updates were forthcoming. Other times, the shield of secrecy was raised.

There's no doubt that WVU head coach Bill Stewart has played it coy in the past on this topic. He successfully hid injuries to players, including Pat White and Jarrett Brown, in days leading up to games which they missed. Will he be able to do that with this new policy in place? And what sorts of games will the league coaches play with the different levels on the availability report? If a player that was listed as "out" plays, or a guy that wasn't on the injury report doesn't, will there be action from the league? It seems like a snake nest of potential problems. And will this carry over to other league sports? There are a lot of unanswered questions on this one – and it's something that has the potential to affect games.

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