by Robert Ferringo - 10/24/2005
There is a developing struggle in the National Football League between league officials and head coaches that warrants some attention. It's a situation that could have long-reaching ramifications for gamblers, fantasy football players and common fans alike. The issue at odds: the injury report.
The injury report is required reading for millions of people each week during football. But a disturbing trend has popped up recently that involves team medical and coaching staffs trying to be blatantly deceitful in their reports. This is not a new phenomenon - coaches will take any advantage they can get - but it is a slap in the face to those who follow the game, whatever their interest may be.
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The league's system is pretty straightforward - "probable" means there's a 75 percent chance of a player being ready to go on Sunday, "questionable" means 50 percent chance of playing, "doubtful" means 25 percent chance of playing, and "out" means out. Prior to the 2004 season, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a memo to each team outlining tightened requirements on reporting injuries. He stated that teams needed to be more specific in their diagnosis, and issued a warning about the repercussions of falsifying information.
During Week 4, Atlanta's Michael Vick suffered a leg injury versus Minnesota. Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. then listed Vick as questionable the following Wednesday, prior to Atlanta's Week 5 meeting with New England. However, Vick didn't suit up for the game against the Patriots, drawing the ire of New England coach Bill Belichick.
The belief in the Patriots locker room was that Mora was intentionally trying to deceive them. By forcing the Pats to game plan against the one-of-a-kind Vick, Atlanta believed it gained an edge (they lost, 31-28). Mora - in a moment of either total honesty or complete stupidity - came out and admitted that he cheated the system.
"It's just trying to preserve a competitive advantage," Mora told Atlanta reporters. "If I give them an edge that I don't need to give them, then I think that is counter-productive to what our goal is."
The league, after watching a coach blatantly ignore their rules and guidelines, did nothing.
In a not-so-subtle attempt to mock the NFL, Belichick listed 15 players as probable on the injury report before New England's Week 6 game at Denver. Among the players initially on the list were Richard Seymour and Troy Brown, neither of whom even traveled with the team. Belichick was being a tremendous baby and hypocrite, since he is notorious for manipulating and concealing information on his injury reports.
Another example occurred when Chicago voiced concern after Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel - a former Belichick assistant - failed to report receiver Braylon Edwards as out on Saturday when he was hospitalized with an infection in his arm. Crennel, a first-year coach, claimed that he was unaware that he had to report changes on Saturdays, too. The league was investigating that bold-faced lie, and deciding whether or not to fine the team.
The damage to gamblers here is obvious. If coaches aren't being forthright with their admittances to the public, then it's impossible for bettors and oddsmakers to have an accurate read on the game. It gives fans - some of which spend hundreds of dollars for tickets to see their team play - a false impression of what product they'll be paying for. And finally, it screws over millions of fantasy league players each week (which, you can laugh at, but that's big business and it generates a ton of interest in the NFL.)
It's trite but true to say that there is very little integrity left in sports. Coaches and players are always whining about what good, honest, hard-working guys they are. But in the end they would all cheat their mothers to get ahead. The problem is that it's a copycat league, and if Belichick and his cronies (owners of three Super Bowl rings) are cheating the system and getting away with it then soon others will too.
My suggestion is to keep an eye on how the league handles these situations. If heavy fines are levied, or if the NFL makes a statement at some point this year regarding coach's treatment of the injury report, then some of my faith in the system will be restored. However, if you keep getting screwed over by players who you thought would play not suiting up, or vice versa, then I would suggest taking steps to insure yourself from further loss.
Here are a few suggestions about how to devalue the NFL injury report:
1) Look at a player's recent injury history.
Curtis Martin is an example of a guy who is constantly getting nicked up, yet he hasn't missed a game since 1998. Joe Horn, on the other hand, has been listed on the injury report as questionable since Week 3 with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since. With Martin, he's certain to contribute regardless of the report. But with someone like Horn, consider them out until you see them in the end zone.
2) Check as many fantasy websites as you can.
It sounds silly, but fantasy players don't fuck around. They have pretty reliable updates throughout the week. The key is to monitor a team's practices, which are usually closed to the public. But fantasy sites consolidate dozens of in-the-know sources with info on the teams.
3) Don't count on team sites.
Team sites are normally just public relations vehicles. If a coach or organization doesn't want information getting out about a player's condition, it won't get out. The team sites walk the company lines, and can be used to further any manipulations. Basically, treat team releases like you would a White House press release - it's the warped, twisted, bullshit version of their truth.
4) Do your own research.
A decent site is SportsInjuryClinic.net. From there, you can find information on any manner of sports injury. When you hear that something is a Grade 1 strain, this place can tell you what that means, and includes links to rehabilitation strategies. If you can find a better site, go for it, but the point here is play armchair doctor and it will give you a little insight into how hurt a player is and what they'll have to deal with to be effective.