The standards for punishments established around the sports world over the past several years appear to be very clear. There is a distinct pecking order when it comes to most transgressions -- breaking the rules is bad, but lying about breaking the rules is worse.
We saw it with the Reggie Bush situation at USC a few years back when he lied about illegal benefits that he and his family received. We saw it with Bruce Pearl when he ran afoul of NCAA recruiting rules and lied about it, resulting in his termination by the University of Tennessee.
Granted, both of those were collegiate situations, but I think sports society has generally accepted this new standard. Contrition and acceptance "GREATER THAN" trying to fib your way through wrongdoing.
If indeed that is the case with the NFL as well, that lying and getting caught is worse than the crime itself, then Bill Belichick pushed all his chips into the middle of the table on Thursday morning, denying any knowledge of the noticeable deflation of the Patriots' footballs (11 of their 12 game balls were deflated by two pounds of pressure before the game) in the AFC Title Game on Sunday.
In the face of a very skeptical media and American public, Belichick gave a long statement before "taking questions" (air quotes in there for obvious reasons -- Belichick takes questions the same way Michael Moore takes exercise tips).
In addition to his general denial ("When I came in Monday morning I was shocked to learn of the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation until Monday morning."), among the things his statement contended were the following:
1. Belichick is ignorant of the process of qualifying and disqualifying footballs as suitable for play in an NFL game. "I've learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew -- or had talked about -- in the last 40 years that I've coached in this league. I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls, the process that happened between when they were prepared and went to the officials and went to the game, so I've learned a lot about that."
Over three decades around the game, and this is the first that Belichick has really gotten his arms around the process of how balls are qualified for games? For a guy who takes the game down to the most minute details of wind shear and ball spin? You'd think he'd have learned it by accident at some point, right?
BELICHICK BELIEVABILITY FACTOR (1 to 10): 1.64
2. Belichick says he basically destroys footballs in practice if he has to in order to make it harder on his players during the week. "Let me just say that my personal coaching philosophy, my mentality, has always been to make things as difficult as possible for players in practice, and so with regard to footballs, I'm sure that any current or past player of mine would tell you that the balls we practice with are as bad as they can be. Wet, sticky, cold, slippery, whatever. However bad we can make them, I make them. And any time that players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make them worse, and that stops the complaining. So we never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. We play with whatever, or kick with whatever we have to use, and that's the way it is."
Okay, my response to this -- so what? How you handle balls in practice has nothing to do with what you may or may not sanction being done with them during games. One has no effect on the other. Just because you make it as hard as possible on your guys in practice doesn't mean you won't make it as easy as possible for them on game day.
BELICHICK BELIEVABILITY FACTOR (1 to 10): 9.96
In other words, I totally believe Belichick would make it hard on his guys in practice during the week with shitty, slippery practice balls. However, who cares...
DEFLATE-GATE RELEVANCE FACTOR (1 to 10): 0.00
3. Belichick basically puts the burden of Deflate-Gate right at the feet of his quarterback, which makes this a fascinating twist in all of this... "I'm trying to coach the team and that's what I want to do. I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on the footballs. They know a lot more than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you and they will tell you that there's never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Zero. Tom's personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide."
Basically, a chair shot to the head of his quarterback. "Don't ask me, Tom's the one who's particular about how the balls feel." That's basically what Belichick is saying. It's not a coach issue, it's a QB issue. And you know what? If we have to trace culpability in all of this to one person, I'd pick Brady every day and twice on Sundays before I took Belichick. The number of quarterbacks weighing in on this topic the past three days confirmed for me that this is something they borderline obsess over. Hell, The New York Times wrote an entire piece on the painstaking efforts Eli Manning goes through before the season to condition the balls to his liking!
BELICHICK BELIEVABILITY FACTOR (1 to 10): 9.12
4. Belichick has never discussed air pressure of balls with anybody ever. "I can tell you that in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure. That is not a subject that I have ever brought up."
Um, yeah...no. I just flat out don't believe this.
BELICHICK BELIEVABILITY FACTOR (1 to 10): 0.00
5. Belichick did his best to propose curative measures so that this "never happens again in the future." "I've learned about the inflation range situation, obviously, with our footballs being inflated to the twelve and a half pound range, any deflation would then take us under that specification limit. Knowing that now, in the future we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game. So as an example, if a ball deflated from 13.2 to 12.9, it wouldn't matter, but if it deflated from 12.5 to 12.3, it would -- as an example. So we will take steps in the future to make sure that we don't put ourselves in that type of potential situation again."
Whatever. I still think he probably spies on other teams, so do I think he will do this? Enough to where it satisfies the league, maybe. Who knows?
BELICHICK BELIEVABILITY FACTOR (1 to 10): 5.01
6. Belichick is "on to Seattle." "It's unfortunate that this is a story coming off two great playoff victories by our football team and our players, but again we've been cooperative with the NFL investigation. We'll continue to do so, and we'll turn all our attention, focus on the Seattle Seahawks, a very well-coached, talented, tough football team. We've spent the last four days, three days, with our preparations and so forth for the trip. Those are coming to a conclusion, we're wrapping that up, and we're starting our preparations today for the Seahawks and practicing through the weekend so we'll have a good, solid opportunity to get ourselves ready to go before we head down there.
If there's one thing I have confidence in through all this, it's Belichick's ability to compartmentalize. TOTALLY believe he's on to Seattle....
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BELICHICK BELIEVABILITY FACTOR (1 to 10): 10.00
From there, the media attempted to ask Belichick questions about everything from his character to Tom Brady's balls, and predictably, the questions bounced off of him like pellets off of body armor. Good try, good effort.
Next up, Tom Brady. He has a press conference today at 3 p.m. Central Time. THAT could get very interesting. Stay tuned....