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JASON GETZ / AJC
Kirby Smart believes Georgia has been at a competitive disadvantage because of the way its injuries are reported.

Kirby Smart wouldn’t mind seeing an SEC policy on injury reports

ATHENS — Ben Cleveland and Jeb Blazevich did not practice Thursday because they are “rehabbing” from injuries. We know that because Kirby Smart told us.

Anything about injuries is supposed to come through the head coach. That’s the new policy at Georgia, apparently.

I don’t have a big problem with that. Technically, that’s kind of how it’s always been. You see a player is hurt or not participating in practice, you write it down and you ask the coach about it later.

Hopefully, he tells you. Sometimes he doesn’t.

In the case of Blazevich, we know he has a sprained knee because Smart said as much. We don’t know what’s wrong with Cleveland because, well, because Smart won’t say. Why he won’t say, we don’t know. I suppose we’ll find out eventually. Maybe not.

Injuries, or Georgia’s specific handling of them, has kind of been in the news lately. It stems from an incident last Thursday when Deangelo Gibbs hurt his shoulder in practice. It just so happened to have occurred during a tiny sliver of a window the Bulldogs offer the media for practice observation. Being paid observers and all, people reported it.

Allegedly, this upset Gibb’s mother. She apparently read on a fan site that her son had gotten hurt in practice and called up the UGA coaches at some point panicked that it might be serious.

It wasn’t; Gibbs was back at practice this week. But that gave Smart cause to review how Georgia was handling the injury reports.

Earlier this week UGA sent out a memo to media members stating a new policy. Effectively it tells reporters to not report injuries unless or until they ask the head coach about it. Let’s just say it hasn’t been agreed to yet.

Smart was asked about his new policy following the Bulldogs’ final practice of the spring on Thursday.

“Well, the big thing for us is we’ve got some kids who have been injured at practice,” Smart said. “We all know the situation with their parents. Some of the parents got upset with the way that we handled the injury. It was really more our fault for not putting the policy in place to not allow comments on injuries from the perspective of an injury that happens while there’s (media) viewing. That’s important to keep those kids, to keep that part safe for them.”

I don’t totally buy that. Gibbs’ situation, which occurred during a 10-minute media viewing period, is actually very rare. If you ask me, the policy on a situation like that should be internal for Georgia.

As in, “you know, media were there when Johnny got hurt. Can someone from the training staff or one of the 50 analysts on the football staff please call his mom?”

But I digress.

I’m not wholly against Georgia’s new policy. It’s really not that unusual.

In fact, I just came back from Notre Dame, which has a very open philosophy with regard to media viewing practice. The whole two-hour practice was open on Wednesday. Beat reporters there have agreed to not report an injury they see happen or any that have not been previously vetted until they’ve had a chance to ask head coach Brian Kelly about it. Conversely, the media relations staff there makes sure Kelly is available after any practice in which the media are present.

That’s not always the case at Georgia. Kirby isn’t available every day there is a media observation opportunity. But that’s not really the point.

The real reason Smart wants to take more control of injury reporting — which he admitted Thursday — is he believes the way Georgia has traditionally handled it has put it at a competitive disadvantage.

“It’s really a big disadvantage during the season for us for our opponents to know every kid that’s injured, every kid that’s out, every kid that’s not practicing,” Smart said. “When that information gets out to an opponent, it can be a detriment to our team. I’m trying to protect our team with that information.”

And that’s what it comes down to. That led to an interesting exchange in which Smart was asked if he’d been in favor of an SEC-wide, injury-reporting policy such as they utilize in the NFL.

In the pro ranks, teams are required to post a injury-based practice report on Wednesdays and Thursdays and a game-availability designation on Fridays.

“I think if everybody did it I think it’d be great,” Smart said. “But to say I’m in favor of it or against it, I’m not either way. Obviously that would put everybody in the same position, all of us knowing the same thing about whoever we’re playing just like they know about us. That’s why they do it like they do in the NFL. They do it that way because it makes for more parity, even across the board.

“I think it makes sense. I’m not sitting here saying I want it, by any means.”

A good idea but, for what it’s worth, it’s not something I expect to happen anytime soon. I’ve been an adamant proponent of a league-wide alcohol and drug policy for years — and so has UGA — and they haven’t been able to get together on that.