Yes, Deflategate Is Kind Of A Big Deal
The axe just fell on Tom Brady and the Patriots in regards to Deflategate. Tom Brady was suspended 4 games, the Patriots will lose a first round pick in 2016, a fourth round pick in 2017, and one million dollars. The consensus seems to be that the NFL grossly overreacted to something that wasn’t that big of a deal. Time will tell on the penalties the NFL doled out, but I disagree that this wasn’t a big deal, and I’d like to respond to some common things I see being repeated.
The Patriots Won Too Big to Matter
First and foremost, I want to say this: If it “worked” is not a litmus test on whether or not someone attempted to cheat. When a pitcher gets caught doctoring a ball no one checks to see if their curveball curved any harder, or if they had a good day. No one says “well, he gave up 3 home runs that game...so we should all just let it go.” The pitcher is removed from the game, suspended, and their career is to some degree, tainted. (Of course, in that case the pitcher is the one, sometimes literally, getting their hands dirty themselves, but we’ll get to that.)
Secondly, although this is minor to the first point, once a team has a lead in sports, as the Patriots had at halftime, the other team has to respond with a little more desperation. That desperation often backfires, especially against good teams, and the lead widens. I don’t think anyone anywhere thinks the Patriots were a 3-13 football team with properly inflated footballs, but even one extra catch a team wouldn’t otherwise have can butterfly and be the difference in a multi-touchdown win.
This Suspension Means The NFL is Saying Deflating a Football is Worse than Drugs, Abuse, DUIs, Etc
A number of people have said that by giving Tom Brady 4 games, that for other things, like suspending Ray Rice only 2 games for hitting his fiancee, the NFL is saying deflating footballs is worse than punching a woman. Thing is, no, they aren’t.
It would be like if your job suspended one employee for [some actual crime], while firing another for stealing $20 from the register and then got heat for "saying stealing $20 is a bigger deal than [some actual crime]." However, that isn't what they're saying. One of those cuts to the core of the job and things the workplace has purview over, and one doesn’t/isn’t. How can you continue to employ someone where money is available that thinks stealing any amount of it is justifiable? Meanwhile how much can you punish someone for a legal matter, for which there already are punishments or not, that happened on their own time? In fact, the metaphor is borderline nonsensical, because for almost everyone everywhere the concept of getting in trouble at work for something you did on your own time is unthinkable. For some reason, people want the NFL to be the law and the arbiter of the game.
This is apples and oranges. In one case you're talking about a workplace suspending someone for something that happened outside the game. In the other case you're talking about something that, at least in principle, screwed with the integrity of the game the NFL is directly in charge of, and charged with, regulating. It's why betting on your games is such a huge huge no no. There are worse people in the Baseball HOF than Pete Rose. There are lots of racists, lots of jerks, and probably a few outright criminals. However Rose’s infraction potentially undermined the game itself, and thus he’s banned for life. We'll put up with a lot of nonsense as fans, but if we can't trust that the games themselves are on the up and up sports are doomed, and the leagues have a duty to protect that.
It’s the Ref’s/NFL’s Fault For Not Caring More
These complaints often have to do with the way the process of verifying the balls played out. Basically since the PSI’s weren't originally written down, the NFL doesn’t really care. Or, since “The Deflator” was able to access the balls at all, it’s the NFL’s fault that they didn’t care enough to lock up the balls.
To the first I’ll say this: Perhaps this is because it’s entirely reasonable to treat them pass/fail. The original PSI is pretty much irrelevant in almost all situations. The only way the original PSI matters at all in this situation is if you’re trying to argue that they could have started legal and naturally gone to 1+ PSI under because of the use and cold. However, those are things that can be tested using any football.
To the second, I’ll say this: It’s a little like saying a robbery isn’t the burglar's fault if you leave your front door unlocked. Yes, locking the door is wise, but it’s still the burglar's fault. Is it that unreasonable that they just took it for granted that professional sports teams wouldn’t be brazen enough to pull a stunt like this? As a computer programmer I can tell you, almost every bug/security flaw is something “painfully obvious” once it’s pointed out to you by being exploited, but until that point it’s anything but.
Furthermore, let’s say for the sake of argument the Refs didn’t record the PSIs because they actually never even tested the balls. So what? It’s still not the “Ref’s fault” the Patriots used illegal balls. It’s the Patriot’s fault, no matter how you slice it. Slipping illegal equipment “past” someone doesn’t make it legal. Much like even if you believe Sammy Sosa really did accidentally grab his corked "batting practice" bat that day he got caught, it ultimately doesn't matter. Of course, the likelihood this was a mistake can be factored into any punishment. "No punshment" can even be on the table. But that doesn't change the fact that using illegal equipment is using illegal equipment.
The Rule Is Stupid/Old and Doesn’t Matter - They Can Already Doctor the Balls
Yes, teams/QBs can already get the balls the way they want in all sorts of ways, and yet, the NFL has kept this rule through many revisions, and it’s one of the few things they check before the games to make sure the balls comply. The NFL obviously thinks this rule is important.
Look, there is simply no way, in my opinion, that you can hold the position that something “isn’t a big deal to do” when, in order to do that something, it involves a guy sneaking into a room he’s not allowed in, absconding with a giant sack of footballs no one is allowed to touch anymore, and taking them to into the crapper, to do that something to them.
The Colts' Balls Were Under-inflated Too
No they weren’t. Certainly not in the same way, which this line is meant to get across. Anyone selling you this line is selling you a line of “lies, damn lies, and statistics” at best, and willful horse manure at worst.
Each football was tested by two different gauges. None of the Colts' balls were under the minimum of 12.5 on both gauges. Only one ball even averages to under. Even then the average falls within a reasonable margin of error from 12.5. Of course, this assumes we’re supposed to average them instead of taking the max in the first place. Regardless, the Patriots' PSI measurements look nothing like those numbers. Of 11 balls measured there’s only one 12 in the entire table, and a handful are into the 10s.
This Didn’t Even Happen
Perhaps the weirdest turn to come from this is the number of people who think the whole thing is actually a lie concocted by the NFL or the Refs to cover for their incompetence in not checking the balls before the game (Which, I’ll remind you, ultimately wouldn’t matter), or to take the Patriots down a peg, or whatever. “It’s impossible to take the air out of 11 footballs in 90 seconds” has become the “Burning jet fuel can’t melt steel” of this conspiracy. I have no idea how long it takes to drain roughly one PSI out of a ball once the needle is in (and most likely neither do you), but assuming it takes less than 4 mississippi's the 1 minute and 40 seconds the balls were in the bathroom is a veritable eternity to do this in. Seriously, mime it out sometime. I have, and 8 seconds and change per ball actually feels like a pretty long time.
The conspiracy people don’t even contest that McNally, aka “The Deflator,” took the footballs from the Ref's locker room and into to the bathroom. Just that it’s “impossible” to deflate them that quickly, so the NFL is lying to cover up something.
Let that sink in.
This means that these people think the most likely timeline is that:
1) The Patriots full time equipment staff delivered a sack of low PSI footballs. (Nevermind that this is then the Pats fault)
2) The Refs picked that day to not actually check the balls, for some unstated reason.
3) A guy, who had called himself “The Deflator” in the past, steals away those footballs, takes them into the bathroom...and does...what exactly? Puts his career on the line to baptize the balls in toilet water, I guess. (Again, this, in and of itself, is worthy of some punishment.)
4) Deflated footballs are discovered
5) The Refs (and NFL) team up to cover up their original oversight because...something. (Which, again, wouldn’t exonerate the Patriots anyway.)
There are almost no words. Look everyone, this happened. You can argue the punishment is too harsh for Tom and/or the Pats, and I’ll get there, but it happened. Occam’s Razor, all lines of inquiry, and general common sense, dictate that it would be an awfully big coincidence if “The Deflator” stole balls he did nothing to that just happened to turn up deflated after just happening to not be tested. It happened and, at least in principle, it is a “big deal”.
There Was No “Smoking Gun” to Suspend Tom Brady
Here, we agree, to an extent. While Tom didn’t exonerate himself by turning over his phone, the idea that he’s obligated to hand over his personal phone, with personal information, who knows how many conversations with people who were expecting and owed confidentiality, not to mention pictures of his supermodel wife, or he’s somehow impeding the investigation is BS. (One more reason we should probably let the law be the law, and leave the NFL out of most of these recent investigations.)
Secondly, in general I tend to err on the side of “the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and that bar is high for a reason”. So I think it’s fair to say that the NFL might have needed something concrete to link Tom to the deflation in order to punish him. That said, that is a far cry “Tom had nothing to do with it” in any remotely reasonable sense. If you think that some peon just decided to hand Tom Brady a ball different than the previous 20,000 he’s thrown, and for the first time at the AFC Championship game no less, without Tom's approval, then that is a painful level of naivety.
The Patriots Proper Don’t Deserve Punishment
I think it is in here that the most solid case lies. There are some things that need to be more institutional, and other things that don’t need to be. For example, with Bountygate (can we ditch the -gates already?) it’s almost impossible to make the case that something ran by the defensive coordinator and participated in by most of the defense, who were so open with it someone eventually all but told the media, wasn’t known of by most of the organization. With this controversy as few as 3 people could have known and pulled it off just the same. I don’t know if I buy the idea that “anything that happens under your roof is your fault” line of thinking people have. I'm not sure you can hit the Patiots with such a steep penalty without more of a direct link to the organization at large.