Refuse to Defuse

Saturday January 31st, 2015

PHOENIX — In case you still had any doubt, Super Bowl XLIX will officially be played under a cloud of suspicion.

Either the Patriots will be crowned champions, and a majority of the country outside the six New England states will view them as cheaters. Or, thanks to the scrutiny that has dogged the Patriots for two weeks, the undistracted Seahawks will roll to back-to-back titles. The 120-odd actual football plays will be irrelevant. PSI will be the takeaway from this Super Bowl.

That’s the message we received from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in his annual state of the league address on Friday. Given one final chance to take the air out of the issue before the game (pun intended), Goodell passed.

“As you would expect, we take seriously anything that potentially impacts the integrity of the game,” Goodell said. “We are focusing, principally, on two questions: Why were some footballs in the game that were not in compliance with the rules, and was this the result of deliberate action?

“I want to emphasize we have made no judgments on these points. And we will not compromise the investigation by engaging in speculation. When Ted Wells has completed his investigation and made his determination based on all relevant evidence, we will share his report public.”

Translation: Let the speculation continue to run wild up to, during and after the Super Bowl!

Goodie, you’re doing a heck of a job.

Most of this could have been mitigated by a simple statement of fact on the Monday after the AFC championship game. Something that said, “The league’s investigation was triggered because of the following set of facts that we were able to certify…”

Precisely how was the inflation level of the Patriots’ footballs called into question? (In the absence of fact, we’ve heard everything from Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson tipped off an equipment manager, to the league set up a sting operation based on previous complaints.) And is it NFL protocol to investigate any possible violations of game integrity?

Who certified the footballs before the game, and how confident is the league that the proper protocols were taken by the game officials? All we’ve heard via the league’s statement: “Prior to the game, the game officials inspect the footballs to be used by each team and confirm that this standard is satisfied, which was done before last Sunday’s game.” A few more details would be nice.

Precisely what was the PSI reading of each of the Patriots’ footballs at halftime? Numerous reports have put it at more than two PSI below the acceptable range, other reports have said it was closer to one. Give us the exact data. And while we’re at it, what were the Colts’ readings at halftime?

Basically, the Patriots and their fans deserve to know more than barebones details as to why these allegations are being taken so seriously that an independent investigator and forensic teams had to be brought in.

If not at the outset of the investigation, at least Groundhog Goodell (I'm available to the media almost every day of my job professionally. Yeah, right.), after coming out from hiding again, could have been human about the scandal during his “Everything Is Back To Being Awesome” press conference.

I imagine a not-out-of-touch Goodell saying: 

Look, I understand this isn’t exactly good timing for myself, the Patriots and the league, but game integrity is something I take seriously, as does the league as a whole. What we found was all the footballs were certified by our officials before the game—four of them conducted the check with referee Walt Anderson supervising the entire operation. During the first half, the league was alerted by the Colts of a potential violation. We met with officials at halftime and logged all the pertinent information. Of the Patriots’ 12 footballs, 11 were more than two PSI below the minimum set by the league. All of the Colts’ footballs were fine. That triggered our investigation. Maybe there’s a logical explanation, maybe there isn’t. We don’t know, so we’re talking to as many people and as many experts as possible to figure it out. That’s going to take time. I know it’s not ideal, but that’s where we are.

If the NFL presented significant evidence like that initially, these past two weeks wouldn’t have gone any worse for the Patriots. That’s basically the assumption people have run with, at least outside of New England, thanks to media reports that may or may not be accurate.

If the evidence was less than that, for instance if some of the PSI numbers were closer to only a pound below the acceptable range, then some of the air would have been taken out the controversy. More importantly, a certain degree of normalcy could have been returned to Super Bowl week.

I don’t really care whether the PSI numbers were logged pre-game (I bet they will be going forward), or whether or not the league has ever checked footballs at halftime previously. I think everyone realizes we’re dealing with unchartered territory; who ever thought tampering with the footballs before kickoff was even possible? Those technicalities shouldn’t prevent the league from sanctioning the Patriots if there is strong circumstantial evidence.

There was one Goodell said that I do agree with, and that was his answer to a question about whether or not a competitive advantage was truly gained if the allegations are true.

“Whether a competitive advantage is actually gained or not is secondary, in my mind, to whether that rule was violated,” Goodell said. “That’s the integrity of our game, and when those rules are violated, we will take that seriously.”

You can’t pick and choose which rules are really important  and which might be competitively questionable. If rules governing the actual ball aren’t important, then what are we all doing here?

Still, this will rage on well past the Super Bowl, thanks to Goodell and his “the less you know and the more time we take, the less you can pin on me” approach. Friday was the latest example of that, and now the Super Bowl is destined to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It didn’t have to be this way.


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