There has been a lot of discussion regarding “Deflategate” as to whether or not the Patriots did it intentionally, and how they should be punished if they did. The glaring issue is integrity of the game, not just on the field, but with the off the field treatment of scandals and indiscretions. Let’s discuss some of the recent incidents which have taken place where league rules, and competitive balance have been brought into question.
In 2007 the New England Patriots were investigated during “Spygate” for having recorded other team’s defensive signals so they could properly break them down and gain a competitive advantage. This act was deemed by the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, to be in violation of league rules. Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the league maximum fine, the New England Patriots Organization was fined $250,000, and also docked their 2008 1st Round Pick in the NFL Draft. They were allowed to retain the higher 1st Round Pick they had acquired by trade.
Following the fines, additional accusations came to light from Matt Walsh a former Patriots Video Assistant came forward stating that the Patriots not only had recorded signals, but also that they had recorded pre-game walk through practices of the St. Louis Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. A game which the Patriots won convincingly. All evidence was turned over to Roger Goodell, who reviewed it and then admittedly destroyed all evidence surrounding the incident.
In 2010 the New Orleans Saints were investigated during “Bountygate” for placing bonuses or “bounties” for injuring opposing team’s players. The bounty system was alleged to have been in place from 2009 through 2011 and was administered by then Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams. In 2011 it was deemed that the Saints did indeed have a bounty system geared towards hurting opposing team players, and the Saints were ordered to stop the program, however they did not.
In 2012 Former Saints Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams was suspended indefinitely and banned from applying for reinstatement until after the 2012 season for organizing the pool. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended from the 2012 Season effected April 1st, and Saints GM Mickey was suspended for the first 8 games of the 2012 season, and Saints Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt was suspended or the first six games of the 2012 season. The reason for the three Saints employee’s suspensions was “Conduct detrimental to the League” in their knowledge of and failure to stop the program.
The question arises, why were the Saints hit with such stiffer penalties than the Patriots? A $250,000 fine for an NFL team which essentially prints its own money is not even a slap on the wrist, and taking just the lesser of a pair of 1st Round Picks is almost a non-event. Finning Bill Belichick $500,000 was the max fine, but why was there no consideration for a suspension. Mere knowledge of Bountygate earned the Saints Head Coach, GM, and Assistant Head Coach substantial suspensions. If the punishment for violating the “conduct detrimental” portion of the Code of Conduct is suspensions for all involved why wasn’t Bill Belichick suspended? Was the blatant violation of rules as stated by the NFL Commissioner not considered to be “conduct detrimental”? Giving Commissioner Goodell the benefit of the doubt, perhaps in light of no precedent having been set for such actions, he realized after Spygate harsher penalties were needed for Organizations violating the rules.
Fast forward to today. The NFL has prided itself on disciplinary actions against its players. A tiered system for penalties has been put in place whereby players who are first time offenders will be punished less harshly on their first offense than they will on their second, third, etc. Josh Gordon for instance under the new rules for substance abuse was suspended in 2014 for 10 games for his violation following a history of positive drug tests reaching back into college. His subsequent violation this month will result a stiffer penalty of a full year suspension.
As the NFL is creating a track record of stiffening suspensions for repeat offenders, it is reasonable to state that the League should hold the Patriots Organization to the same standards it demands of its players. In addition it should take into account the precedents it has set with previous rulings.
The New England Patriots, if found guilty of intentionally deflating footballs during the AFC Championship Game or in other games, should be penalized harsher than they were for Spygate. During Bountygate the NFL set the tone of suspending the Head Coach, Assistants, and front office officials for their knowledge of the events. If it is found that Coach Belichick had prior knowledge of these events, this would be his second incident of involvement in willful violation of league rules. In keeping with the NFL’s own precedent for punishment, Tom Brady and anyone else found to be involved should be facing serious suspensions.
The NFL has come under significant scrutiny in recent years for the handling of the rules, rules violations, and even apparent favoritism for particular franchises or players. I for one do not think that referees intentionally make calls to help teams win. However, there is perception by league insiders, players, front office officials, as well as outsiders who feel some teams “get away” with things, the Patriots being one of them. With this very public incident being a black eye during the week leading up to the League’s premier event, what will Roger Goodell do? Will he dispel those critics and punish the Patriots as repeat offenders; holding a franchise to a higher standard as he vehemently does to the players, or will this become more food for those critics?
Article Written By: C. Musialowski