Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Does Humidity Weaken Your Ligaments?

A couple days ago I wrote about Florida TE Cornelius Ingram's injury: a torn ACL. Back in July I wrote about injuries suffered by safeties Dorian Munroe and John Curtis: torn ACLs.

Well, those pesky ACLs continue to bedevil Urban Meyer and his gang. Backup offensive linemen Jim Barrie, a sophomore, and backup middle linebacker Brandon Beal, one of Florida's more highly rated freshmen, both tore their ACLs this week.

Ingram and Munroe were big losses, while Curtis, Barrie and Beal are mostly depth casualties. UF's best defensive player in middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, and Beal was about third or fourth on the depth chart there. Barrie wasn't breaking into Florida's starting offensive line this season.

But that's not the point. UF's also suffered a handful of other injuries this fall; offensive tackle Carl Johnson broke his wrist, receiver Louis Murphy is battling a sprained ankle, lineman Sam Robey dislocated his kneecap, defensive tackle Omar Hunter is battling a back issue and lineman Matt Patchan is recovering from a gunshot wound. You know, standard stuff, the kind of injuries a lot of teams suffer.

But the ACL tears, while not unique to UF (Georgia lost its best offensive lineman to the same injury), are troublesome. I'm not in any kind of position to critique the strength and conditioning system crafted by Florida's training staff; in fact, S&C Coordinator Mickey Marotti is regarded as one of the best in the country. Nor can I comment on the ferocity of Florida's fall practices. I'm not in Gainesville, and even if I was, Meyer closed practices to the public after Ingram's tear.

There has been always been this annoying little voice in the back of my head that insists I'm supporting a modern gladiator system when I watch football. At least the pros get paid. To be sure, the collegians get a free college education, but considering how players are often encouraged to do the bare minimum in the classroom, the value of that education is rather questionable.

So I cringe a little hearing about all these injuries. Barrie, Beal, Curtis, Ingram and Munroe will all have the luxury of a world-class sports medicine and rehabilitation program as they attempt to recover. These days an ACL injury, while serious, is not career-ending. Athletes come back from ACL tears all the time.

But the rehab process is still long and painful, both physically and mentally. I wonder sometimes if it's really appropriate to support a system that puts these 18 year olds through a grinder in an effort to glorify a coach or a university.

The reality, though, is that I have those thoughts a lot, and I still watch Florida football, still scream for Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. I still intend to write up a lengthy preview post in a couple of weeks before UF's opener with Hawaii. And I still plan to do some bragging should UF win a championship this year. Maybe that's a sign of moral weakness. I don't know.

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