Deflategate Penalties Are Very Fair

Deflategate has been blowing up the airwaves and twitterverse lately, and the outrage and criticism of the punishment handed down from Roger Goodell has me puzzled. From Friday, when we had insiders saying a 4 game penalty was in the realm of possibility, it has always seemed very straightforward. But, after reading media comments and articles, I feel like I might be in the minority. I don’t really care about being in the min–no, that’s bullsh; I do. When I’m right and you’re wrong (and when isn’t that the case?) it’s hard to hold it in, so I’m examining the common arguments against the punishment as I see them.

(H/T: these are largely taken from Peter King’s MMQB reaction article, since I think he groups the arguments together, and is sometimes too smug for my taste.)

NFL levied an unprecedented penalty on a team while admitting that the front office and head coach weren’t aware of the illegal actions. A few things are wrong with this line of thinking. First, in the NFL’s original letter about Spygate, Goodell said that this would be taken into account if there were any other cheating infractions. So, take an original penalty and multiply it via the “repeat offender” bonus, and you have the two draft picks and $1million. The draft picks are similar to the Spygate penalty–although Patriots fans should take heart: if New England makes a trade for an additional first round pick in the 2016 draft, we know the league will still let them keep the better pick. The fine is a joke. Not because this is a very profitable sports franchise, but because Kraft actually stands to make money as the punishment stands. Tom Brady is suspended for four games (about $1.8 million), which means that he doesn’t get paid these dollars. So, the team is only paying one million of the almost two million that it was slated to pay Brady during those four weeks. Does Robert Kraft need the money? No. But, talking about that being an unbelievable fine is ridiculous.

Also, we learned from the New Orleans Saints Bountygate scandal that “Ignorance is no excuse”, so not knowing it was going on does not keep one from being culpable. It can definitely be said that the Patriots have created an environment that fails to monitor adherence to the rules as vigorously as they could. So, the Ted Wells Report saying that Kraft and BB didn’t know about the deflation doesn’t mean that they can’t (and shouldn’t) be held accountable for what goes on in their building. So, we’re still good on the punishment logic so far.

The Ted Wells Report didn’t find that the Patriots conclusively even deflated the footballs. That’s a key contention of those not happy with the Wells Report, and it’s understandable–to a point. In a court of law, you need to prove something beyond reasonable doubt in order to convict someone of a crime. However, things are different in the NFL. Up until Spygate, the threshold to penalize a player or team for cheating was similar to that in a criminal court. However, after he handed down the penalties to the Patriots in that situation, Roger Goodell wrote a letter to the NFL Competition Committee days before the March 2008 Owner’s Meetings announcing his intention to lower the burden of proof from “conclusive proof” to the “preponderance of evidence” standard used in civil cases. Meaning that if all the evidence points to someone cheating, even without the conclusive smoking gun, the Commissioner is still entitled to penalize that person or persons.

“Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking,” Goodell wrote. “I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established. And where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s). I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis.”

This letter also included various items such as his endorsement of the implantation of a helmet communication system for defensive players, and while rule changes would require a 3/4 majority approval from the owners, “Goodell could enact some of the administrative proposals in his memo unilaterally, and several people familiar with the issue said they don’t foresee him encountering much opposition to any measure he deems necessary.”

So, people who say that the Ted Wells Report didn’t find conclusive evidence that the Patriots and Tom Brady were adjusting the inflation levels of footballs outside the approved window are correct. However, that doesn’t preclude Goodell from penalizing them anyway.

This is unprecedented to “attack” an owner and team this way. Not really. Remember when due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, we had a league year without a salary cap? Apparently, it was only an uncapped year if you didn’t use your imagination. The Cowboys signed Miles Austin to a (regrettable) contract extension that offseason, with the cornerstone of the deal being a gigantic portion of the guaranteed money coming to Austin in the uncapped year. This structure allowed the Cowboys to possibly overpay for a player without having an adverse affect on future salary cap years. Other owners in the league (read: ownership of the New York Giants) were outraged, saying that this was a violation of the uncapped year. How? We never got a better answer besides that the owners had a “back room” agreement that spending wouldn’t get out of control. Jerry Jones did nothing worse than violate a gentleman’s agreement, and was penalized for “salary cap violations” in a year where there was no salary cap. And yet, some want to be outraged when there is (at the very least, some) evidence that the Patriots deflated their footballs? Sorry, sometimes you get caught and have to pay up.

The average of all 22 readings was 11.30 psi–two-one-hundredths lower what the Ideal Gas Law would have allowed for balls that started the day at the Patriots’ level of 12.5 psi. What, then, should the margin of error be for the proper inflation levels of footballs? Should the rule read “a football should be inflated to between 12.5 psi and 13.5 psi, except if the football is within .02 psi of the previously described range.” That’s stupid. That would then be 12.48 to 13.52 psi. But fine, that can be the new acceptable range of inflation. But what if we find someone using a football that using the Ideal Gas Law is predicted to have been inflated to 12.47 psi? That’s only .01 outside of the new range. See, it’s a slippery slope. The rule may be dumb, and thrown out at a later date, but it’s here today–so it needs to be followed.

I’m not smart enough to understand the Ideal Gas Law. But, I do know that a law of physics applies to everyone equally. And only a couple of the Colts balls were found to be outside the range as opposed to eleven of twelve for the Patriots. If the law is incorrect, it still incorrectly judged both sides.

The Wells Report doesn’t tell Brady’s side of the story. It’s one sided in favor of the NFL. 

“Oh, okay; what’s your side? Let’s take a look.”

“Well, you can’t, because it’s on this cell phone that I won’t give you. And it’s corroborated by this guy that my team won’t let you do a follow up interview with. But still! Tell my side!”

“That’s okay, I understand you not wanting your text messages on TMZ. How about you and your agent look through your phone alone, and then send me anything pursuant to this investigation. No one will snoop on your phone.”

“No, not doing that. Just tell my side of the story in your report.”

If you don’t cooperate, don’t gripe about it being one sided. Idiot.

How can they use Spygate against them? It’s something different! This one is tough. I can’t find any source material on Goodell’s original announcement of the penalties in 2007. But, I’ve heard John Clayton on ESPN say that Goodell told the team that this would be held against them if they were found to be cheating again. I can’t vouch 100%, but he’s a respected reporter, so I’m putting it in.

Plus, many people would say—me among them— that the NFL botched (or purposely softened) the draft pick penalty to the Patriots. They had made a trade with the 49ers, and had two picks in the first round of the 2008 draft—[a top ten pick] and [a low pick]. The league only took away the pick that the Patriots had actually earned, instead of the one they had traded for. It would have been easy, to say, “We’re penalizing you your best first round draft pick.” Holding to that, what if the Patriots had already traded away their first round pick for 2008? Would they have only taken away the second round pick, because that was the first pick they owned? Or, would they have deemed that too light of a penalty and made the penalty take place in a year with the first round pick available. Most would say the latter, which then holds that the league didn’t take steps to impose the most strict penalty possible.

The (arguably) underinflated footballs didn’t change the outcome of the game. You can’t prove that they gained a competitive advantage. Again, NFL has said they don’t need 100% proof. Competitive advantage doesn’t mean “caused outcome of the game.” If a cornerback holds a receiver on the complete other side of the field from where an interception took place, do we overturn the penalty because it didn’t lead to the interception? It didn’t give the defense a competitive advantage to pick off the pass? Should only the penalties that we can prove affected the outcome of the play be enforced?

Look, I’m not a Patriots or Tom Brady guy. But, I do like fairness. If you broke the rule, just own up to it. If you claim more deductions than you should have to get a higher income tax return, good for you. You’re not hurting anyone. But, when the IRS comes to audit you, just admit your mistake and give them all the paperwork. People who are griping about this seem to be fans or uneducated. When I look at it, it seems very cut and dried, and not worth spending time talking or arguing about.