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The injured reserve list (abbr. IR list) is an official designation used by the National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) for athletes who become injured and temporarily unable to play. It is analogous to the injured list in the Canadian Football League (CFL), the inactive list in the National Basketball Association (NBA), or the disabled list in Major League Baseball (MLB).
It is used because the rules of these leagues allow for only a certain numbers of players on each team's roster. Designating a player as "Injured/Reserve" frees up a new spot, enabling the team to add a new player during the injured athlete's convalescence. In the NFL, when a player is placed on the list he cannot return to play for the remainder of the regular season; the other leagues allow the player to return to play during the season. The NBA's inactive list is the most liberal as it does not generally require a player to be injured.
A player may be placed on injured reserve if he is unable to participate due to illness or injury, provided that the player had passed the club's initial physical examination at the start of the season. To qualify for the IR due to injury, that injury must be sufficient (in the opinion of the team's medical staff) to render the player unable to participate for the seven days following that injury. Once placed on IR, the team may then replace the player on their roster. The player on IR may not return to active play for seven days, although they may participate in non-competitive events such as practice, meetings, etc.
A team may place a player on injured reserve (reserve/injured list) who is "not immediately available for participation with a club". Generally, these players may not practice or return to the Active List for the rest of the season (including postseason games or the Pro Bowl) that they are placed on injured reserve, but are allowed to be with the team.
During the preseason, the league also allows players with long-term, but not season-ending, injuries to be placed into one of two designations: physically unable to perform (PUP), for injuries sustained during the previous season or during training camp, or reserve/non-football injury, for injuries sustained outside of team or league activities (despite the name, this includes lingering injuries from college football play, should an injured player be drafted and join the team). Both designations are functionally identical in that the player can be promoted to the active roster by week 6 of the regular season or placed on injured reserve.
Starting in 2012, the NFL and the NFLPA reached an agreement allowing one player placed on injured reserve to be brought back to the active roster. Provided that the player was on the final 53-man preseason roster (A rule exempted for the 2012 season), and that the injury is deemed to keep this player unable to practice or play football for an estimated six weeks, the player may be allowed to practice after Week 6, and be activated to play after Week 8.
Teams may also place a player on injured reserve with a minor injury designation, but the team must release the player once he is healthy.
Due to abuses in the use of the injured reserve list, where some teams found convenient to use the IR to stash players without independent medical oversight, the injured reserve has been renamed the Inactive List with the last collective bargaining agreement. Starting in the 2005–06 season, players can enter the inactive list one hour before tip-off for as little as one game. The inactive list has a minimum of one player and a maximum of three, subject to hardship rules when a team with three injured players already on its inactive list has a fourth player injured. Players sent to the NBA Development League will continue to count on a team's inactive list.