Copyright 2017 The Deseret News Publishing Co.
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
SALT LAKE CITY — A headline in the Detroit Free Press this week said, "Breakdown: Michigan football's 2017 schedule." That was followed by a deck headline that said, "Position-by-position preview."
But the story referenced just seven players by name. The article included such generalities as, "It's going to be an adventure at times," and "Can the team's growing talent up front be the shot in the arm that the offense needs?"
Too bad it didn't mention who those talented players might be.
That's not the newspaper's fault, but a byproduct of coach Jim Harbaugh's bizarre way of preparation. Want to know who's starting at right cornerback?
Show up on Saturdays and maybe you'll get an answer.
These days, coaches are in full Secret Service mode, on the lookout for any suspicious behavior. The media, and in turn the public, are getting only a trickle of relevant information, thanks to unreasonably protective coaches. As coaches see it, everything's on a need-to-know basis.
Apparently the people who buy tickets don't need to know much.
For some hare-brained reason, Harbaugh didn't even release a roster until Wednesday. You could get more information off a ticket stub. When he did finally produce a roster, he did so via Twitter because it's such a Harbaugh thing to do. However, no depth chart was included at that time. The move evoked an old grade school taunt: "That's for me to know and you to find out!"
Actually, Utah's Kyle Whittingham channeled that sentiment after the Utes' game against North Dakota on Thursday. Addressing injuries, he said, "We'll know a lot more tomorrow. You won't, but we will."
Many schools - including Utah and BYU - now specify that media credentials can be revoked if unauthorized information on injuries, medical equipment, illnesses, etc., is reported from practice.
You can't be too careful in the espionage game.
Louisiana State coach Ed Orgeron told media this week that any player absences for the game against BYU would be handled "in-house." In a conference call, he reiterated his policy thusly: "Every week we're going to handle in-house discipline. Those things will be decided toward the end of the week. I will not announce before the game any in-house discipline, but every week that's going to happen."
I love this cloak-and-dagger stuff. Why not keep the starting times a secret, too? People can arrive whenever and hope to see a show, kind of like a whale-watching expedition.
Controlling what the public sees has always been a tactic in sports, though to a lesser degree. PED usage was kept secret for many years in track, baseball and bike racing. But nowadays, even simple things like a player getting the wind knocked out of him in football practice is top secret.
I understand why teams want to keep their laundry private. But a roster sheet isn't dirty laundry, nor is an injury report. It's basic information. If a team is covering up an injury, it takes only one play for the opposition to recognize it, anyway.
Media aren't the only ones Harbaugh has irritated. His reluctance to release a depth chart last year spurred Colorado to list a two-deep that included Happy Gilmore at punter, Austin Powers at defensive end, James Bond at defensive tackle, Elmer Fudd at quarterback and Lloyd Christmas at punt returner.
When pregame notes were released by Michigan this past week, it included alumni currently in the NFL as part of the 2017 roster.
The gamesmanship never ends.
Closed practices make sense; I concluded that when, years ago, a spy gave every play from a BYU practice to an opposing coaching staff. But hiding rosters and covering injuries opens the door to unfair criticism of team or player performances, because no one knows the extenuating circumstances. It also violates long-established standards of fairness with other teams.
Since there are no hard rules regarding depth charts and injury reportage, the NCAA needs to step in. Reasonable transparency is always the right course. If coaches were as smart as they think, they'd understand that secrecy breeds suspicion, and suspicion breeds alienation. Maybe that's their plan. Then nobody will care whether the star player is hurt.
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