Forfeit. (If true.)
Everything in the piece is caveated with “If the Pats are found to have altered the game balls…” Yes, I understand the investigation is proceeding. No, I’m not going to preface every statement in the piece with that clause. I’m going to trust you to know my intention and that I’m fully cognizant that the investigation is on-going and it is unclear whether this was any more than a normal loss of air pressure due to temperature.
Ever try to submit a ticket to your sportsbook after kickoff and explain that the game hasn’t materially started yet? Ever blow .085 in a breathalyzer and and explained to the police that your were just almost under the limit so give me a fine and not a six month suspension? Ever try to argue anything ever with the IRS?
There are rules, simple rules, that govern our lives. If you follow them, there’s no problem. If you don’t, you’re cheating and you risk getting caught and if you are caught you must face your punishment.
Risk versus reward.
Apparently the Pats felt the risk of deflating game balls was worth the minuscule edge received. Apparently the Pats cheated plain and simple in the biggest game of the year and — this is important — calculated that the NFL couldn’t possibly take the Super Bowl game away from them even if they were caught.
My premise is this: If it turns out that a Patriots’ employee deliberately altered game balls the Pats should forfeit the game and the Colts should go to the Super Bowl.
The story so far.
Eleven of the twelve balls designated for use by the Pats’ offense were under-inflated in the first half Foxboro last Sunday for the Pats’ 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship game. The dozen balls used by the Colts were also tested and found to be fine. (For clarity: there are two sets of 12 footballs and Brady’s had two to three pounds less air pressure and so were easier to grip and throw than Luck’s.)
Here’s the timeline of reports.
Breaking: A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night. More to come.
— Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) January 19, 2015
According to a person familiar with the background of the matter, the Colts first noticed something unusual after an interception by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in the second quarter. Jackson gave the ball to a member of the Colts’ equipment staff, who noticed the ball seemed under-inflated and then notified coach Chuck Pagano. General manager Ryan Grigson was notified in the press box, and he contacted Mike Kensil, NFL director of football operations. Kensil then told the on-field officials at halftime, when the Patriots led 17-7. The Patriots erupted for 21 points in the third quarter, although it is not known if any of the balls were improperly inflated after halftime.
The NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots’ 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL’s requirements, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game told ESPN. The investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what’s required by NFL regulations …. Under NFL rules, no alteration of the footballs is allowed once they are approved. ESPN Sports Radio 810 in Kansas City reported that the Patriots’ footballs were tested at the half, reinflated at that time when they were found to be low, then put back in play for the second half, and then tested again after the game. The report did not reveal the results of the test following the game. All of the balls the Colts used met standards, according to the report. Yet to be determined is what, if any, penalties may be imposed upon the Patriots. One source described the league as “disappointed … angry … distraught” after spending considerable time on the findings earlier Tuesday.
No word on whether the investigation includes the Patriots’ much tighter 35-31 win over the Ravens the week before at Gillette.
“The NFL can’t forfeit the Pats’ win, it’s too harsh of a punishment.”
When engaging on this point, it feels like talking with a new golfer who plays with buds on weekends but maybe hasn’t played club matches or stoke play tournaments before. He might fluff his lie in the rough, or kicks the ball out from behind a tree, or drops nearer to hole and that might fly in a friendly Nassau with bros. But in a competitive match improvising your own set of rules with the rationalization that it didn’t impact the match so it was ok does not fly. No. You’re cheating and the penalties for cheating in golf are harsh.
Ground your club in a hazard in a match sometime and then let the club pro adjudicate after the match is over. You will lose the hole (match play) or two strokes (stroke play). If you signed your scorecard with the wrong score for that hole, you lose the match or are disqualified.1 Non golfers struggle mightily with the ethos of golf. I remember well the outcry about the outcry over Tiger’s rules breach in the Masters. But even Goldfinger understood the meaning of “strict rules of golf” and he wanted to freaking nuke the gold in Ft. Knox.
Back to the case of (possibly) deflated game balls:
- It’s a rule.
- It’s a fundamental and explicit rule.
- They broke it.
- They went out of their way to break it.
- They went out of their way to break it in the biggest game of the year.
Some think a fine is appropriate punishment? Some think firing the poor ball boy is appropriate punishment? Some think firing Belichick appropriate? Some think losing draft picks is an appropriate punishment? Nonsense. There isn’t a Browns fan on earth who wouldn’t trade all of the above for a Super Bowl berth so even the aggregate of those punishments is not appropriate. The punishment for breaking rules is supposed to be of greater consequence than the incentive for rule breaking. If its not, then why the hell not break the rules?
Try this scenario.
I actually didn’t have a huge problem with ‘Spygate.’2 Didn’t occur during a game, on the field… seemed as though they could do the same thing with a coach with a pen and notepad. I didn’t feel like the lining up with four regular linemen against the Ravens was unsporting. It’s within the rules and so it’s fine. I think the correct call was made in the Tuck Rule game. And has Tom Brady never not been listed as ‘Probable’ on injury reports? It’s sleazy but,, ok fine. But this is different and here’s the best analogy I can come up with: What if the Gillette Stadium has a telescoping crossbar with which the upright width can be narrowed by, say, one foot when the opposing team is approaching that side or widened by a foot when the Pats approach? Should they then forfeit the game? Or should we consider whether any field goals were attempted on against those uprights and if not let it slide? Hey it’s only a foot, what’s the problem! Would it matter that a couple field goals wouldn’t impact the outcome because the Pats won by a lot? Of course not. Of course they should forfeit the game. Plus the fine. Plus the draft pick(s). They attempted to affect the outcome of the game by … by cheating. And that’s exactly what (seems to have/might have) happened here. Cheating. Upset about the punishment? Blame the Pats, don’t blame the NFL. Brosef puts a finer point to this:
Please someone answer me this: If you can knowingly cheat, get caught, and still win the game, why have the rule in place to begin with? — ryang (@RDGinCLE) January 21, 2015
I have no idea what the punishment will ALL I’M SAYING is that a forfeit has to be on the table.3 And since that’s on the table, they need to make the call fast in case the Colts have to play in the Super Bowl.
And the fact that this is Super Bowl makes it more important that the NFL enforces its rules. The expedient route is to let it slide and I would guess we’ll just see a fine and a some lost draft picks which would validate the Pats’ calculus cited above.
But it’s not as simplistic as no harm no foul.
The foul is the harm.
Additional notes as they come in.
I’m not going to write more posts on this if I can help. But it’s useful to have a repository of relevant data points as they come in. So I’ll be appending to the post as needs.
1. The following is for everywhere who thinks it’s “no big deal.”
.@brian30tw NE fum rate by yr vs the rest of the NFL, before and after ’07 rule change regarding visitor footballs.
— Brian Burke (@Adv_NFL_Stats) January 23, 2015
2. More data showing some squirrelly outliers regarding Pats and ball handling.
Points one and two raise a likelihood that this is not just one game.
3. A Browns blog goes all jury nullification.
I can kinda get the ‘no big deal, please make it go away’ crowd. Don’t agree with the take, principles matter etc., but I can understand wanting the Super Bowl to be about a football game. I have the same naïve hope every year.
But here is a poll at Dawgs By Nature that is downright frightening. 50% of DBN think no one from Pats altered the balls after the officials checked them. 50%! From a Browns blog! No word on the ‘how did 11 of 12 Pats’ balls come to be 20% under-inflated in the first half while the Colts’ balls were fine’ question.
4. Every caller to Boston sports talk is a DUI lawyer now.
I live in Greater Boston and I get Boston radio in my car. It is unlistenable. But by far the oddest development are the gymnastics employed to concoct a plausible explanation. Were the pressure gauges calibrated? If so when? Where the referees trained in the use of air pressure gauges? Lookit I had a DUI so I get grasping at straws to beat your rap. You’ll gladly pay $5000 for that ‘DUI specialist’ attorney. But there really isn’t sex in the champagne room and your breathalyzer results really were legit and the balls really were two pounds south. All that’s left is someone asking whether there was uneven pavement when the officials were conducting their field
sobriety air pressure test.
5. NYDN accomplishes ball boy’s deflation task in under 90 seconds.
Importantly, the reporter noticed a significant difference.
Afterwards, I handled the equipment and immediately realized the advantage of softer balls. Even just a pound or two of pressure — which is not easy to detect by just picking up the ball — made them much easier to pass and catch.
- It happened to me. I signed a scorecard and I think I just did the math wrong. DQ. [back]
- Although the Pats were docked a first round pick, Belichick $500K and the Pats $250K. [back]
- I know if this were Cheddar, we would convene the Executive Committee probably going to enforce the rules as written. Because the rules are there to protect the other players. [back]