The New England Patriots remain in the hot seat days after their 45 to 7 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The lopsided win was not supposed to dominate sports headlines all through the week — at least for the reason that it is drawing media scrutiny.
The alleged cheating at the hands of the Patriots — popularized as “deflategate” — hangs over the Super Bowl-bound franchise that already has a checkered history.
According to ESPN, NFL sources have found that 11 of the 12 Patriots game balls were “significantly below the NFL’s requirements.” ESPN notes that:
League sources have confirmed that the footballs were properly inspected and approved by referee Walt Anderson 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, before they were returned to each team.
ESPN Sports Radio 810 in Kansas City reported that the Patriots’ footballs were tested at the half, reinflated at that time when they were found to be low, then put back in play for the second half, and then tested again after the game. The report did not reveal the results of the test following the game. All of the balls the Colts used met standards, according to the report.
NFL rules set the proper weight of game balls. However, each team is responsible for maintaining their own balls. Referees inspect the balls prior to the start of each game. Violations can result in a $25,000 fine and further possible sanctions, such as the docking of draft picks.
Changing the amount of air in the ball can affect how it travels and is gripped. A deflated ball could potentially give a competitive advantage to a receiver.
“Deflating the ball does give a team an advantage,” materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez told NPR. “Particularly during that game which was very rainy, it’s hard to hold the ball, it’s hard to catch the ball. So by making it a little softer, it’s easier to catch the ball.”
This is not the first incident of irregular balls for the Patriots. The Colts reportedly raised concerns with the NFL during a regular season game on November 16 against the Patriots in Foxborough. It is also being reported that the Baltimore Ravens tipped off the Colts regarding possible ball irregularities after their loss to the Patriots in this year’s playoffs. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh confirmed that team officials were interviewed as part of the NFL’s investigation.
While many have argued that the deflated balls did not ultimately affect the outcome of the game in which the Patriots were already considered heavy favorites, ESPN commentator Jackie MacMullan argues that — if Bill B Belichick or someone else on the team was responsible — it would be “incredibly audacious, stupid and paranoid.”
“It’s almost as ludicrous as videotaping the defensive signals of opposing teams after the league sent a memo specifically forbidding the practice and warning there would be serious repercussions if the decree was ignored,” MacMullan writes.
Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones was similarly critical, calling on the NFL to suspend Belichick in the Super Bowl.
“If you want to stop a cheater, you punish the cheater. Severely,” Jones writes. “This is about a team and a coach who know the rules then purposely break them.”
Whether the Patriots are ever faulted or not is still not known. The outcome of the investigation and any possible sanctions against the team will likely be announced prior to the Super Bowl.
But the court of public opinion is decidedly against New England. Sixty-eight percent of respondents in an unscientific ESPN.com poll said that they considered the team “cheaters”. Only residents of New England disagreed.
The Patriots organization is only a few years removed from the 2007 “spygate” scandal where the team videotaped the New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals against NFL rules. Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 as part of that scandal. The team was fined $250,000 and lost their first round draft pick. ESPN reported at the time that Belichick admitted to recording opponents’ signals dating back to 2000.
The New England Patriots will face the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on February 1 in Glendale, Arizona. It is the sixth Super Bowl appearance for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons. They appeared in the Super Bowl during the 2007 and 2011 seasons, losing both to the New York Giants.
Image Credit: Keith Allison, flickr