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Utah Utes football: Utes, Pac-12 put a muzzle on media regarding injuries

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Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Shhhhhhh. Keep this quiet, totally on the down low, OK? It's a matter of national security, or at least the security of the Utah Utes.

Running back John White is good to go against Arizona State, Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. Or not. He said he was ready prior to last week's game against BYU, but ended up watching from the sidelines due to a bad ankle.

Safety Eric Rowe is supposed to be back from a hamstring pull, too, or so they say.

The coaches?

They ain't sayin' nuttin'.

"We're not going to say (whether) we're going to have a fake punt or any of that, so why say anything about injuries?" coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It just doesn't make sense."

If you haven't heard any injury updates lately, that's good news for coaches in the Pac-12. The matter reached critical mass this season when coaches started closing doors. Whittingham reached his decision around Sept. 10, when he told the media he wouldn't comment on injuries. What is that knotty protrusion on his linebacker's ankle? Nothing. Nothing at all. What if a player is running in circles and reciting poetry from "A Child's Garden of Verses"? Might be a concussion, but it's none of anyone's business, including boosters who donate millions.

Teams are keeping things in-house, citing medical privacy laws, even though they never applied in the past. They're also saying that silence protects the players. Could be, but if things had worked this way in 1991, we still wouldn't know about Bo Jackson's hip. Peyton Manning's injury last year might have been a mere kink in the neck.

Asked this week whether he plans to maintain his no-information policy on injuries, Whittingham said, "Forevermore, unless they change the league-wide or NCAA-wide policy."

As far as releasing injury information goes, he said, "There's no reason for it."

Except, of course, that the fans might like to know whom they'll be watching on Saturdays.

Utah team rules specify there be "no injury reports from practice based on observation, including reports on players who are not practicing, or are practicing on a limited basis due to injury."

What doesn't make sense is why coaches think injuries are a huge secret. If opposing teams watch film, they can see who gets hurt. Besides, they don't necessarily have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Just last week, White said he was 100 percent for the BYU game, but when the kickoff arrived he was nowhere to be seen.

Whittingham seemed relieved on Wednesday not to discuss injuries.

"I've been waiting to do that for years," Whittingham said. "That's the trend. And ultimately, it's for the players' benefit and that's why we've taken the stand."

Coaches argue that someone's injury could be intentionally aggravated by opponents. But that has always been the case. It only takes a snap or two to know whether an opponent is at full speed.

Utah is far from the only school to plug the information flow. Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Washington State and USC have similar policies. Last week, USC revoked the press credentials of a Los Angeles writer who reported on an injury. Though the ban was lifted the next day, the message was clear: fluff pieces are fine, but hard news is frowned upon.

The public's desire to know isn't a priority in the Kingdom of Kiffin. Asked this week by reporters whether a certain player had practiced, he said, "I don't know" and ended the interview period after 30 seconds, saying, "I have to go."

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is considering an NFL-type reporting system that provides a weekly injury update, by which players are rated "probable," "questionable" or "out." But Washington State coach Mike Leach has said he wouldn't comply to such a rule, calling it "a horrible idea."

For his part, Whittingham said he would go along with any open policy — as long as everyone else complies.

"Whatever is a level playing field, I've got no problem with it," he said.

The closed-door policy could actually backfire on coaches who traditionally cite injuries as a reason for losing. Still, that's a small deterrent compared to the fear of allowing a competitive advantage. So for the time being — or perhaps for forevermore — keeping secrets will remain the most popular game in town.

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