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October 16, 2012It was a furious debate that had absolutely nothing to do with the presidential election.
Instead, it was a war waged over a meniscus.
The topic was whether Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's knee was twisted or bruised or whether the meniscus - the fatty pad around his right knee - had some structural damage, specifically a tear. Alabama officials have said since the weekend that McCarron's knee was bruised. He was put back in the game after he took the offending hit at Missouri. He was back on the practice field on Monday. But when a College Football News reporter went on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon and said that "three sources" had confirmed that McCarron had a meniscus tear, the debate was on, at least until McCarron's mother waded in with a reply that the "tear" report was "100 percent false."
McCarron was back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon and answered questions afterwards, and while he was coyly nonspecific, he did say he "felt fine," that "rumors were rumors" and, jokingly, that he "wasn't going to lose the leg."
Short of providing the world with pictures from an MRI, there isn't going it be absolute verification of anything about McCarron's knee. So what he says, and what his coach says, is going to be the final word. Citing "unnamed sources" about health issues is risky business. I am not criticizing anyone else, only saying that my policy, if compelled to use "unnamed sources" in a medical story, you can rest assured those sources are firsthand - the individual, his immediate family, medical personnel with direct involvement or a head coach who gets direct reports from those doctors and trainers. You simply cannot rely on a trainer's girlfriend or someone who heard from someone. I am not saying anyone did that. I am just saying that you have to have rock solid sources.
There is no question, though, on why the story attracts so much attention. A meniscus tear, depending on its severity, doesn't necessarily sideline a player, if it exists. But anything, anything at all, that might affect McCarron's performance is huge news.
In part, that is because he is a prominent player in his own right. Further, however, is that McCarron - more than any other player - is perceived as having a direct impact on which team plays for the BCS title. There seems to be a growing national perception that Alabama cannot be stopped from getting to Miami. I think that is overstated - LSU will be a huge obstacle, and there could be others. But without McCarron, Alabama's chances would diminish significantly. If that happens, the perception goes, the SEC chances diminish as well. And in case you didn't notice the national reaction to Alabama and Florida being 1-2 in the first BCS poll, rest assured that the rest of America is tired of the SEC in general, and Alabama in particular, winning all the crystal.
That is why McCarron's health is a national issue, and why people gravitate to any rumor about it like a herd of drought-stricken zebras rushing to a waterhole. Although the issue is probably going to grow more quiet after Tuesday afternoon's McCarron quotes, don't think his every move will not be scrutinized, closely, on Saturday night in Knoxville. It will be, in part because people do care about him, but in larger part because of the impact McCarron's presence could have on all of college football and its championship race.
TideSports.com chat schedule this week includes Cecil Hurt on Tuesday (7pm) (Q&A transcript), Andrew Bone on Wednesday (6pm) and Chase Goodbread on Thursday (8pm).
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.