Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The absurdity of the NFL's inactive list

No less than ninety minutes prior to the start of any NFL football game, head coaches are forced to make some of the most senseless decisions in the sport. And all those decisions revolve around the absurdity of the 8 man inactive list.

What exactly does the inactive list accomplish?

Well let's see...

All teams pay all 53 men on their roster even if they are inactive so there's no salary savings there. Might some teams cut back on travel expenditures by forcing the inactive players to stay home?

I tend to think not.

What if a player wakes up on Sunday in his hotel room and the previous night's dinner isn't sitting so well? What if during pre-game warm-ups the starting safety pulls a hamstring and the fourth safety on the depth charts was left behind at home? Wouldn't coaches want to take their inactive player choices right up to the wire just in case the unexpected happens?

Of course they would and as a result, the probable inactives are likely to travel with the team and sleep and eat on the company's dime.

So if the teams pay them, feed them, transport them why can't they play them?

What possible logical explanation is there?

I'm sitting here scratching my head wondering...

The reduction of 53 to 45 players on game day penalizes a team that has scouted well and has built its roster from the bottom up. The team that has depth on its roster and has spent the time, energy and intellect to select and develop such depth is penalized.

It also puts starters at risk.

Think about a game that is a blowout. The Baltimore Ravens who are thin at safety decide to remove Ed Reed from the game to avoid an unnecessary injury in a 27-0 game against the arch-rival Steelers. They would really like to take out Dawan Landry as well but since they only had 3 safeties on the active roster that day. Landry has to stay out on the field and at risk while an inactive safety stands on the sidelines and observes in street clothes.

An unnecessary injury hurts the game and it robs the fans of seeing teams at their best.

The inactive list also prevents scouts from evaluating some players, something that can potentially hurt the team and the player. A solid performance by the player could elevate his status in the future either with his current team or as a future free agent. It might also help the teams gain a clear glimpse of regularly inactive players in real game conditions. The performances might validate or invalidate a team's opinion of a player which ultimately helps them to strengthen their roster.

The Ravens are continually on the lookout for NFL players who might not be productive with their current teams but could be productive with the team chemistry, infrastructure and coaching staff employed by the Ravens. Watching those players on other teams could help Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta augment the Ravens roster in the future in a fiscally responsible way. The inactive list robs them and their peers of that opportunity.

I'm still scatching...

So, I Googled this inactive list topic several ways and came up with nothing meaningful that could keep me from shaking my head in disbelief while seeking a smidgen of logical reasoning for the inactive list. The empty search led me to the controversial grounds of speculation.

What if a small market team like the Bengals (whose owner Mike Brown makes Jack Luskin look like a spendthrift) fought for the 45 man roster because he knows that his scouting department is a relative skeleton crew at best and they can't compete with the talent evaluators employed by teams like the Ravens, Patriots and Colts? Might the small-market, poor mouthed teams whine a bit to try and offset their unwillingness to invest in a deeper scouting department and tilt the rosters in their favor to create a more equitable game day distribution of talent?

Like I said, this is speculation on my part but the absurdity of the inactive list begs for it because its existence is hardly the offspring of logical reasoning.

And now for some reason, I'm thinking back to that old Tootsie Roll Pop commercial in which the little boy asks around town, "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?"

"The world may never know", concludes the commercial when the boy fails to discover the answer after several attempts.

Perhaps the same is true when we ask, "Why is there an inactive list in the NFL?"


Anonymous said...

I believe the rationale for the inactive list is the following: At last (or previous) collective bargaining negotiations, expanding the rosters was one bone thrown to the players association. This concession annoyed a fair number of teams. To alleviate the concerns of some of those teams that a residual unfair advantage could be had by a healthy team playing a team with assorted injuries (with a de facto inactive list), the concept of the 8-person inactive list was born.

Though a sizable number of teams supported the concept at the beginning, most have realized that it doesn't make much sense in practice. However, a few holdouts remain to block any change by vote. I think you need something like 75% vote to change a major rule.

I don't agree with any of the original rationale, and I'm sure I didn't get it completely correct, but I believe it basically explains how it came into being.