Georgia could have one of most restrictive policies in SEC on media reporting injuries

A fence surrounds the new outdoor practice facility at the University of Georgia, Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (Photo/ John Roark, Athens Banner-Herald)

Georgia coach Kirby Smart alluded to a new player injury Tuesday during a radio appearance, but an addition to the school’s media policy he planned to implement that day would have kept the media from reporting on it from observations at that afternoon’s practice.

The policy emailed Tuesday afternoon hours before practice said that media members can’t report on players wearing non-contact jerseys, working with the training staff or becoming injured during open portions of practice unless Smart provides information about their medical status.

Five beat reporters who cover the team informed Georgia athletics that they would not comply with the restrictive policy because it “goes too far beyond the scope of what is acceptable in our eyes .” So Tuesday’s practice—scheduled to be open for 11 minutes—was entirely closed instead.

Georgia doesn’t open its season until Sept. 2.

It now is expected to delay and perhaps make minor adjustments to the injury policy until preseason practices, meaning Thursday’s final practice before Saturday’s spring game would be covered without change. Further discussions about the policy with the media will continue.

Before Tuesday, it was known that offensive lineman Ben Cleveland missed Saturday’s scrimmage with an injury.

“We’re a little dinged up across the offensive line at this point in the spring,” Smart said on the “Buck and Kincade Show” on 680 AM. “About a week ago, we had two groups that were working pretty good. Now we’ve got a couple of guys injured. We’ll see if we’ve got those guys back for the spring game or not.”

The other offensive line injury he was referring to appears to be Sage Hardin, who posted on Instagram Tuesday night: “Can’t wait to start the recovery path and be back for 2017 season.”

Smart had indicated he wanted to make a change to the media policies after reporters posted online that freshman defensive back Deangelo Gibbs was injured when they saw it happen during an open period Thursday. Smart was unhappy, he said afterwards, because the injury news got out so fast, saying “his mom has to find out from you guys rather than from us, which upsets me a little bit to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s really fair.”

Smart confirmed after Saturday’s scrimmage that Gibbs did suffer a shoulder injury. The second-year coach generally has been willing to offer injury updates, sometimes without being asked. He was scheduled to have a postpractice press conference for the first time this week Thursday.

For a couple of seasons under former coach Mark Richt, Georgia went another way when it came to injury updates.

It provided reports on practice days from director of sports medicine Ron Courson listing injuries and if a player was limited or out.

“We’re done doing that,” Richt said in the preseason of 2014.

The reason: “Because we don’t want to tell the whole world what’s going on.”

That’s the mindset of many college football head coaches, especially at major programs, who like Richt don’t want to give opponents any information that they believe could provide a competitive advantage.

Georgia’s injury addition to its media rules unveiled Tuesday would be among the most restrictive policies in the conference along with Tennessee and Missouri but other programs also have varying degrees of guidelines reporters are asked to follow.

We checked with beat writers elsewhere in the SEC. Here’s a rundown of what happens with the teams they cover:

Florida: No policy for media reporting injuries. Coach Jim McElwain can be vague when asked on player injuries.

Vanderbilt: No limitations placed on what reporters see at practice. Injury information generally not provided unless it is season-ending, but coach Derek Mason has commented some on a limited basis with other injuries.

Tennessee: Similar to Georgia’s new policy. Reporters aren’t permitted to write who didn’t practice unless it’s addressed by coach Butch Jones, who is reluctant to speak about injuries.

Missouri: Injuries can only be reported if the Missouri sports information director confirms it. Sometimes, coach Barry Odom will provide the information. Any information from spring practices can’t be reported unless Odom addresses it after practice.

Kentucky: Practices are almost always closed, but there aren’t restrictions on the ones that are open. Assistant coaches have given injury updates, but coach Mark Stoops usually leaves that up to them.

Alabama: There is not believed to be a written media policy on injuries. Coach Nick Saban provides injury updates during press availabilities and media members report players in non-contact jerseys.

Ole Miss: No written policy similar to Georgia, but may have similar policy “in spirit.” Players missing practice due to injury still reported on without comment from coach Hugh Freeze.

LSU: No media policies reporting injuries except for no live tweeting during practices.

South Carolina: No restrictions on reporting injuries from limited media time given at practices.

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