All the criticisms I’ve read of the NFL’s ruling on the deflated football scandal have come from angry Patriots fans. They’re easy to dismiss, since they have something of a vested interest in seeing the punishment overturned. But because my two favorite teams are the Bills and the Steelers–the first two teams that will face the Brady-less Pats–I think I can say I’m coming at it from a slightly different perspective.
On the four game suspension for Brady: I was surprised they were that harsh. I expected at most two games, since it has not even been proven he did anything. But, if the league wants to take a “the-face-of-the-game-must-be-above-suspicion” stance, I can’t really blame them. I mean, ever since the Ray Rice disaster, Goodell’s judgment will always be suspect in my eyes, but this is the equivalent of a Performance-Enhancing Drug suspension. Fair enough.
Fining them money and a first-round pick, though–that’s where I think they went overboard. I don’t care what Dave Rappoccio of “The Draw Play” says, this “it was a second offense” justification is ridiculous.
In the spying scandal, everyone agreed that Belichick broke the rules for where videographers were allowed to be placed during a game. Even he admitted it. As the Patriots head coach, it was legitimate–harsh, but legitimate–to take away a draft pick from the organization, as any decision made by Belichick is effectively a decision made by the New England organization. So, it’s fair to take away a draft pick for that.
But you know what else happened only weeks before the spying controversy? Then-Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was suspended four games for using HGH. That’s right; the same number of games as Brady has been suspended. Seems logical. A player does something to get a competitive advantage, he gets suspended. The team’s punishment is that they don’t get that player’s services for those games. This all makes sense.
It wouldn’t have made sense to fine the Patriots for Harrison’s rule-breaking. Harrison was acting on his own initiative, not on orders from the organization–just as was Brady, according to the report that this is all based upon. He wasn’t doing it at the behest of the organization. I can’t remember any instance of an organization being punished for a player independently breaking the rules.
This lends credence to the idea that the NFL is trying to punish the Patriots not merely for cheating, but for their success. This is not as outrageous as it sounds. After all, the NFL draft itself is designed to punish success in the interest of parity. And it makes sense they would do that–it gives fans hope. (Not that my Bills have exactly taken advantage of it these past 15 years.)
You can’t win for this long without making a lot of enemies. I think the other 31 teams are just sick of seeing the Pats every year, and are resorting to unorthodox means to take them down.
Do I think they broke the rules on football inflation? Probably the assistants did–whether Brady ordered it or not I don’t know. I suspect every team does a little rule-bending things like this to gain an edge, but when one team gets too far ahead of the others, the rest use the knowledge that they are doing something against the rules as a convenient way to rein them in. It is typical cartel behavior. I think we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the NFL. I just hope Buffalo can win at least one championship before it all falls apart.
UPDATE 5/22/2015: Blogger friend P. M. Prescott posted his own thoughts on this scandal. He differs from me in that he favors a stronger punishment for New England. He also makes the very astute point that other players and the officials should have noticed the footballs were deflated–in which case they should also be punished.
I think it’s interesting that while we differ on how much the Pats should be punished for this, we both think the NFL has mishandled this. It’s kind of a disaster for the league, as I mentioned in the comments below, because whether the Pats are completely innocent or guilty as sin, the league’s credibility has taken a huge hit. Personally, it will be hard for me to have as much faith in the legitimacy of everything the league does going forward, because either the best team in football is fraudulent, or the league’s policing/enforcement of its own rules is fraudulent.