Covering the New England Patriots has never been an easy task when it comes to getting the whole story from those who are in a position to tell you, namely the head coach. From the lack of access to members of the assistant coaching staff to the team issued injury reports for games, the Patriots have taken on a decidedly protective stance toward the information available to the media. Any information a reporter hears from the players or the staff is only what the team wants out in the public realm, and many times it isn't enough to properly relate the whole story. However, the Patriots are not alone in this approach and the league has decided it is time to take action to address the issue.
The NFL is set to roll out new media policies, which address the perception that teams are withholding pertinent information or even bending the truth to gain a strategic advantage. The new rules will require that teams provide reasonable access to assistant coaches for interviews on a regular basis. In the past, the inability of media to speak with assistants led to one-dimensional, controlled perceptions of particular storylines surrounding the teams. It was the head coach's show to run, and that has been the way things operate, not just in New England. The new rules will allow the media to obtain second or even third opinions to create a better flow of information to the public and a more accurate picture of the real story.
Probably the most important change in the new media policy concerns the weekly injury report, which has been made a mockery of by some teams. When players such as Tom Brady can be listed as probable (defined as 75% chance to play) with a shoulder injury for three straight years, it calls into question the integrity -- or at least the consistency -- of the reports. The new policy will also address the flagrant injury report manipulation that goes on between rivals, an example of which was the November 4th 2006 report between the Patriots and the Colts. The Patriots listed 20 players on their report and the Colts listed 18 of their own. That single report was such an obvious manipulation of the rules, that the league was forced to restructure the system. The new rules take some of the leeway away from coaches and require a more honest reporting system.
Under the new rules, teams must include in the daily injury reports on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday whether a player missed practice, took part in only a portion of practice or fully participated in practice. The participation listing comes in addition to the increments of playing possibility: Out (0 percent), Doubtful (25 percent), Questionable (50 percent) and Probable (75 percent plus).
The rules changes will take a while to affect the way teams operate, but fans should hail the new policy as major step in the right direction. It is step toward a more honest and open league. It is a move that allows the media types who work hard to be accurate and detailed in their reports, to provide the general public better coverage of their favorite sport. The new rules may be construed as a way to force the Patriots to play fair, but fans should understand the rules are being changed to address media poliecies of every team throughout the league, not just those under the control of Bill Belichick.