"Win if you can, lose if you must, but at all times, cheat." -- "Classy" Freddie Blassie
Bill Belichick does not give a rat's ass about the karmic ramifications of right and wrong, whether it means the "Golden Rule" or the actual rules. If it makes his team better, and increases the chances of the Patriots winning, he will do it.
Spying on other teams, stealing signals, borderline formations that push the spirit of the rules, signing LeGarrette Blount to be his starting tailback after he walked out on his teammates in Pittsburgh...
It doesn't matter. There's no nuance with Belichick. If "x" increases the percentage chances of "y" happening (where "y" equals "a Patriots win"), he will do it. So are we all that surprised about this whole "deflated ball" thing in the AFC Title Game?
Late Tuesday evening, reports surfaced on ESPN.com that the NFL had determined 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots provided for the AFC Title Game on Sunday, a 45-7 Patriots romp of the Indianapolis Colts, were significantly underinflated. According to reports, the "under inflation" was around two pounds of pressure per ball, which is about 16 percent below the normal amount.
People who are experts in squeezing footballs claim this is a significant amount. I am taking their word for it.
For those who are wondering why this matters, it is generally believed that softer footballs are easier to throw and catch, especially in the cold, wet conditions that ruled the day on Sunday. Also, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has said before that a softer football is easier to throw.
NFL senior VP of communications Greg Aiello has said that the NFL has no comment at this time. Troy Vincent, the league's senior executive VP of football operations, has said that the league is taking a few more days to complete its investigation, an endeavor that, more important, needs to uncover how this happened as much as it did that it happened.
In an NFL game, each team provides its own dozen or so footballs to use when it has the ball. The balls are examined and validated by the referee a couple of hours before the game. The underinflated balls used Sunday were only brought to the attention of the league after Indianapolis linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass late in the second quarter.
Jackson noticed the inflation level of the ball and gave it to the Indianapolis equipment staff, who then took it up the chain within the Colts management team. Eventually, GM Ryan Grigson notified the league, which subsequently began the investigation.
If indeed the league believes that the Patriots and, more specifically, Belichick, are behind any intentional doctoring of the footballs, the question now becomes "How does the league punish them?" As we all know, Belichick has "priors." He, of course, was fined $500,000 in 2007 for having an assistant spy on the New York Jets' defensive signals.
The bigger issue here is not the effect of taking air out of footballs (especially since the final score was 45-7; more air in the balls wasn't going to make Blount any easier to tackle), it's the willful disregard for (bordering on openly urinating on) the rulebook by Belichick. If the league wants it to stop, if it wants to affect behavior, it will hit Belichick where it hurts.
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Money doesn't accomplish that. No suitable fine will dissuade Belichick, especially because that's something easily recouped through raises in future years. If the league is serious about this, it will take draft picks -- IMPORTANT draft picks, maybe ALL the draft picks -- away from New England.
The only way to combat Belichick's boundless interpretation of what's acceptable to affect winning is to actually negatively affect his ability to win football games. $500,000? $1 million? Whatever.
Belichick laughs at your fines. Well, if he were programmed to laugh, he would. He's programmed to win, and that's it. Rules be damned.