January 21, 2015


Patriots' Deflategate Isn't Really Cheating (Kavitha A. Davidson, 1/21/15, Bloomberg View)

Beyond questions of just how much of an impact deflated balls can have on the outcome of a game, we're confronted yet again with a fundamental question of competitive advantage: Is it cheating if everyone does it?

In 2013, an anonymous college football equipment manager told Yahoo Sports that ball tampering is pretty much standard practice. "It's just common. It's just the way it works. Everybody does it," he said. "You know you're not supposed to do it, but nobody thinks it's that big of a deal. I don't think anybody looks at it as cheating." Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers weighed in as well, telling ESPN Milwaukee that he actually likes his footballs over-inflated because he finds them easier to grip, and that Green Bay will "push the limit" of what's allowed.

So if it really comes down to a quarterback's personal preference, and most people in football don't care all that much about the air pressure, what's the point of regulating to this level of minutiae? Standardization is important in sports, but from a pragmatic standpoint, we should question the validity of rules that are constantly ignored. 

If the NFL were truly concerned about maintaining the integrity of the game balls, it would omit teams from the pregame chain of custody altogether, an all-too-rational idea floated by former Colts general manager Bill Polian. But as Deadspin's Barry Petchesky points out, a 2006 rule championed by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning calls for both offenses to provide their own footballs. This is ostensibly so each quarterback can "break in" the balls, getting a feel for them and making sure they're to their liking before kickoff. 

It's fair to ask where the line should be drawn when it comes to regulating balls, and why, if it's really that important, the league doesn't just adopt a simple solution like Polian's.

The $25k fine is pretty much an invitation to do whatever you want with the balls.

Posted by at January 21, 2015 3:44 PM

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