Posted on: December 2, 2008 1:20 pm

NFL - Rule Change

The current NFL rules allow too much latitude in the way teams are allowed to post their injuries.  While there are fines for mis-representation, there is way too much wiggle room for teams to "fudge" the status of players. 

While most of us can agree it's a nice thought for your home team to "fool" it's opponent with who will play, and who won't- in reality, a team will not alter it's game plan based on an injury report 90% of the time.  The exceptions to this rule, are when key players are OUT.  An offense might pick on a particular hole to run through, if a superstar lineman is out, replaced by a rookie, or pick on a replacement cornerback.  The same can go for defenses, also- gear up for the pass, if the star running back is out, or double up on the wide recievers, if the star-pass-catching TE is out.  Again, this is based on the assumption that the player is OUT.  If there's any real chance they'll play, a team will still prepare for that player.

Why then, the need to shore up the rule?  This is a historic time- a time where interest by the fans is unprecidented.  We're talking Fantasy Football.  The current NFL fan base is the most knowlegable ever- for any sport. As the "sport" of Fantasy Football grows, the interest in the NFL will continue to grow with it.  With the increase in interest, the need for accurate knowledge grows.  Even more so for the more serious fan, who puts money into a Fantasy League.  With leagues costing from $30 to over $1000, who wouldn't want accurate information?  I haven't seen any statistics on the number of money-leagues/players there are, but it wouldn't surprise me if the gross revenues from Fantasy Football leagues aren't getting close to the $1 Billion per year mark.  Big business, no doubt.  As that number increases, there will be pressures never felt before, on coaches, especially, to cater to the fantasy aspect.  Who gets the ball, and how often, are questions that coaches may soon have to answer to, not only to the owner of the team, but to fantasy owners, as well.  With that being said, the importance for truthful information for the fans, is going to outweigh any potential gain by injury deception. 

Let me give you a classic example.  Week 13 of this season, Brian Westbrook was listed as "Questionable", with knee and ankle injuries. By definition, a player listed as "Questionable" has a 50-50 chance of playing.   He had performed poorly the previous month, so there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of this information.  So what happened?  Westbrook rushed 22 times for 110 yards, two TD's, caught 3 passes for 20 yards and 2 more TD's.  I think to most people, this over-qualifies for the term "questionable". 

What impact did this have on the Fantasy Football community?  Well, as you may have guessed, it affected me.  I had 2 other "healthy" options at RB- Matt Forte, and Chris Johnson, both whom performed well that week, though by comparison, Westbrook almost outscored them both combined.  If I had expected Westbrook to be "Probable", I would have started him- after all, he was my #1 draft choice.  The result of my choosing to bench Westbrook?  I lost that week by 1 point, which also eliminated me from the league playoffs. 

Sour grapes?  Sure.  After all, I did my homework on the subject.  I didn't just listen to a guru, or flip a coin, or let the computer pick for me.  I used all the tools at my disposal.  Could it have been prevented?  Absolutely.  I think that the Eagles knew Westbrook was healthier than a 50-50 chance to play.  If he was hurting that badly, they would have limited his playing time, in an effort to prevent a setback to his health.  Without a healthy Westbrook, the Eagles become a pass-oriented team.  No doubt Arizona came prepared to defend against the pass.  Many fellow fantasy owners argue that I should have started him anyway- you always start your stud.- they did.   These people obviously didn't have decent options for replacing him, as I did.  Basically, they got lucky- it had nothing to do with following the "stud" rule- after all, Westbrook outscored his previous 4 efforts combined- and then some.

In my opinion, and I'm sure some other angry/disappointed fantasy owners, the NFL should modify the injury status reporting rules.  They need to define, in better detail, what each status is, and what is expected from that player.  The NFL should also monitor teams and the accuracy of their reporting.  For example- if 10 players are listed as "Questionable" (50-50 to play), and over the course of 4 or more weeks, 75 or more percent of those players played significant playing time- then a red flag should be raised concerning their reporting practices, and a fine/sanctions levied against that team- perhaps extending to reduction of a roster spot for a number of weeks. 

Sure that $30 I spent on that league is a pittance- but multiply that by the millions of fantasy owners who get burned like I did on any given week,  plus those high rollers who spend upwards of $1000 per league- and we're talking no small bananas.  Don't forget that losing hurts, too- whether you pay for your fantasy league or not- you can't put a price on that.
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