Right now the NFL season should be reaching its climax. After the excitement of the playoffs everyone should be salivating over the prospect of a great Superbowl matchup between the reigning world champions the Seattle Seahawks and the franchise juggernaut that is the New England Patriots.
If the Seahawks win then the league will have witnessed the emergence of a dynasty team, in a wage-cap era that is designed to stop dynasties. If the Patriots win then Tom Brady will have four Superbowl rings equaling the record number won by Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
A Superbowl with sporting history on the line and two great teams this is what everyone should be talking about. Instead though the word of the week, month and year is Deflategate
No one knows exactly who did what, and the NFL is now investigating the situation, but the broad story is very clear. Prior to the AFC Championship match between the Patriots and the Colts the NFL referees gave the Patriots their allocation of footballs. Twelve in total.
These footballs were pumped up to the league regulation pressure of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. By the time half time rolls around though the Patriots are 10 points up over the Colts but on inspecting the Patriots footballs it turns out that at least 11 of the 12 balls have had the pressure inside them reduced down to between 10 to 11 pounds per square inch.
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Wall of silence is far from convincing
Everyone in the Patriots camp from Bill Belichick to Tom Brady has come out and said they know nothing about how this could have happened. Belichick is a Head Coach who seems to know every little detail about how his team prepares for games has never considered the amount of air in the footballs. He knows nothing.
Tom Brady leaves the preparation of the footballs to the equipment team. By the time the footballs reach his hot hands the equipment staff have made them "perfect" Brady doesn't have any knowledge about how this happens though. Both Brady and Belichick know nothing.
Whilst this may be important to Brady and Belichick personally to the Patriots franchise and the NFL it shouldn't matter at all. What we know is that at some point the air was deliberated let out of the footballs in contravention of the rules. We may not know exactly who did this or whether they acted alone but given the Patriots history with, lets say, the 'grey' areas of rules this is part of a disturbing pattern.
Does it matter?
In discussions of 'deflategate' the common refrain is 'Does it matter'? Fans may accept that the air was let out of the footballs but so what? The Patriots after all hammered the Colts and it was not even close. Deflating the balls would have made at most a very marginal difference and it is hard to imagine it would have changed the outcome of the game.
This argument misses the point tough. Sport, any sport, is governed by rules to ensure that the best team/individual wins. The playing field is level and all that is meant to count is preparation, talent and perhaps luck.
If someone wins the Olympic 100m by two seconds and are later found out to be doping they don't get to keep the Gold medal if scientists can determine that he would have won by 1.8 seconds without the drugs anyway. Getting an illicit advantage is cheating fullstop. It has to be or else there is no way to draw the line.
If today the NFL allows the Patriots to deflate footballs then what next? People will only follow sport is they know it is a truly fair competition.
The NFL needs to protect the integrity of its competition and act now. It can't allow staff and players that are mired in controversy to win the Superbowl. It may be controversial but Brady and Belichick must be suspended from the Superbowl.