Press Box: Torn about importance of deflated footballs

Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune

The world will really do anything to avoid caring about the Pro Bowl, won’t it?

Just hours after championship Sunday ran its course, the sports Internet started buzzing about the Patriots using deflated balls in their romp past the Colts to become AFC champions.

I’ll admit, I laughed when I first read a tweet about it and assumed the whole thing would go away by morning.

Eh, not exactly.

This thing has blown up into the weirdest, hot-take-iest, most sophomoric-joke-lending news cycle I can recall. It’s hilarious, but the longer it persists, the harder it is for me to laugh the whole thing off.

But first, let’s take a look at what makes this thing so weird.

For one, almost everyone — regardless of what they think the Pats’ punishment should be, if any — acknowledges this did not win the game for New England. They won, 45-7. They could’ve gotten to that score with Nerf balls and I’d still think they were a better team than Indianapolis.

Also weird, this isn’t a “Did they or didn’t they?” scandal. Almost from the get-go, it’s been more or less accepted that the balls were not inflated to regulation, thanks to an ESPN report saying 11 of the 12 balls were underinflated. Instead it’s a “Who did it?” or “How did it happen?” kind of scandal, and even then, I think most people believe the Patriots knew what was up.

But the weirdest thing to me is how clear it is the football gets no love. Football is the most popular sport in the country, and millions of fans obsess over where the ball goes every Sunday and whom it goes to and who sent it there in the first place, etc. etc.

And still, we don’t seem to give a darn about the acutal ball.

You’re telling me in the year 2015, the NFL still lets teams bring their own balls like this is some sort of pickup beer league? That’s just odd and incredibly inconsistent with the league’s reputation of being obsessively controlling about everything from headphones to touchdown dances.

If only to avoid criticism, you can bet the NFL is going to change the way game balls are chosen.

And the NFL is going to have to do something, because this really is the perfect storm. Many have pulled the “We’re talking about deflated balls? This is what happens when you have two weeks off before the Super Bowl!” card, but this thing started the night of the championship games. The two-week break is crucial, though, because A) It doesn’t give the NFL a chance to just sweep it all under the rug, and B) It actually does give the NFL a chance to fully investigate the thing.

Which makes it practically unique. Normally, these types of scandals come years after the fact, and the NFL will fine a team or deny them draft picks or the NCAA will take away a championship that we all already know the winner of. The NFL is actually going to have to do something about Deflate-Gate. And if the league really wanted to lay down some severe, immediate punishments, it could.

Should it?

As a St. Louis Rams fan, I’d like nothing more than to see the Patriots sent home from the Super Bowl for cheating. (Spygate, anyone?) And actually, if we could somehow send the Seahawks home, too, I’d be cool with that.

And thinking about it from an analytical point of view, I’m starting to lean that way as well. (On the Pats, that is.) You see, it just seems odd to me that a team could cheat by messing with the ball — the very core of the game — and not receive a punishment that is directly related to the game in which the messed-with balls were used.

Isn’t it that simple?

Further, wouldn’t it be worth losing draft picks to cheat your way to the Super Bowl?

Now, I am totally willing to grant that the deflated balls themselves aren’t that big of a deal. Like I said, I don’t think it could skew the competitive balance that much. And, for all we know, every team does it. (Though it wouldn’t shock me if Belichick was the only one.)

Hey, who knows? Maybe I’m just letting my Pats hatred cloud my vision. (And I certainly can’t deny I’d love to see the chaos that would ensue if the NFL told the Patriots they couldn’t play in the Super Bowl.)

But I just can’t ignore the feeling you shouldn’t be able to get away with cheating by changing the football in the game of football.

After all, it’s a game of inches. Is it not also a game of pounds per square inch?



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