By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Starting with the 2016 season, “Questionable” might become the most uttered word in the football lexicon. The NFL has officially removed the “Probable” designation from injury reports, which will streamline the injury report process for teams across the league but also add a fresh layer of uncertainty to players’ availability for games.READ MORE: Victim In Lowell Homicide Identified As 22-Year-Old Dejah Jenkins-Minus
It will also be good for business, and here’s why – but first, a rundown of the changes …
The NFL’s Competition Committee has approved revisions to the league’s injury report policy, which eliminates the “Probable” tag and merges it with “Questionable,” meaning that a player will be listed as “Questionable” if there is “any question concerning a player’s availability for the game.” The “Doubtful” tag now simply means that it is “unlikely” that the designated player would play in the game. Essentially, anyone with less than 100 percent certainty will now be marked “Questionable” while “Doubtful” basically means less than 50 percent. The league said it removed “Probable” from injury reports because “approximately 95 percent” of players listed as such ended up playing, making the designation essentially meaningless.
The rules also changed in accompanying practice reports, removing “Out” in order to “avoid confusion between information provided in the Practice Report and its Game Status Report.” Players will now be designated either “Full Participation,” “Limited Participation,” or “Did Not Participate.” In theory, the new combined reports could make it easier for teams to discern who will and will not be active on Sundays, but it could also cloud potential rosters even more than before.
These rule changes are inevitably going to lead to a lot more players receiving the “Questionable” tag, a designation that will certainly avoid confusion as far as the actual language of practice reports and game status reports. But it will also leave teams looking at their opponents with a lot more uncertainty as to who will and will not be on the field, due to the wide range of potential availability associated with it. The Patriots famously listed Tom Brady with some kind of arm or shoulder injury every week starting in 2003, then “Probable” with a shoulder injury on every injury report from the start of the 2005 season all the way through 2007, at which point it just became comical. What’s to stop them from doing something similar, such as listing half the roster as “Questionable” every week?
Why it’s good for businessREAD MORE: Boston Store Owners, Vendors Cash In On Small Business Saturday
These changes may streamline the practice and injury report process, but the added layer of uncertainty with the expanded “Questionable” tag will also be a sneaky-good business move for the NFL. It’s going to create even more uncertainty for fantasy football lineups, meaning more “GMs” will be checking practice reports even more frequently than usual, which means more eyeballs on Friday injury reports, which means more check-ins on Sunday mornings, which will inevitably boost ratings for the games themselves and the programming surrounding them.
Companies with fantasy football teams and leagues like ESPN and Yahoo!, as well as daily fantasy companies like DraftKings, are sure to be the biggest direct beneficiaries of the new layer of uncertainty surrounding the “Questionable” tag. But obviously, the league benefits from any and all increased attention fantasy sports leagues get, and will almost certainly see an uptick in interest as to the availability of key players should they be less than 100 percent certain to play. There will also be plenty more frustrated GMs who don’t switch players in and out of their lineups quickly enough.
With the new injury report setup, the NFL has also created itself a new avenue for potential discipline. If a player is “certain to play” on Sundays, he must be left off that week’s injury report. A player’s absence from the injury report essentially guarantees that he will be active. That’s why if a player is not listed on the injury report but is inactive for the game, the team must give an explanation to the league or “be subject to possible discipline” if the league cannot pinpoint a valid reason for his absence.
Under the guise of “avoiding confusion,” the NFL has subtly carved out even more attention for itself in the days leading up to games. The bottom line is, with most “Probable” players now becoming “Questionable,” there will be even more intrigued fantasy GMs talking about player availability than before.
Intrigue = ratings. And the new injury reports will provide plenty of it.MORE NEWS: Patriots Plane Flies UNH Men's Soccer Team To NCAA Tournament Game In Oregon
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.