Sports

Dave Boling: NFL needs to get collegiate on repeat cheaters

So, the Seattle Seahawks get that second Lombardi Trophy after all. Right?

Apparently the New England Patriots cheated in their AFC Championship Game victory, so they have to forfeit the subsequent Super Bowl 49 win over Seattle.

Or vacate it, or whatever you might label getting the trophy yanked from their cheating grasp. Right?

Of course not. There’s no such mechanism in place.

The Patriots came up with a big play and beat Seattle on the field in a game in which, we may presume, the footballs were properly inflated. And they beat the Colts 45-7 in the AFC title game, which is not a margin determined by deflation.

Moving forward, though, whether the act of deflating the footballs actually altered outcomes is irrelevant next to the inappropriate and audacious attempt to do so. And the relevance is compounded by the way this creates evidence of a pattern of behavior.

In a report so vague as to be an embarrassment, the independent Wells investigation of the so-called “Deflategate” suggested “it was more probable than not” that Patriots personnel deliberately deflated game balls, and quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” of the rules violation.

Most incriminating were the texts that passed between a couple equipment guys referencing the matter — one of whom called himself “The Deflator.”

Coach Bill Belichick was not implicated. But the captain of the ship is deemed responsible even if he wasn’t in charge of spotting the icebergs, right?

The Patriots were famously nailed before, in a 2007 videotaping scandal called “Spygate.” Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Pats were docked their first-round pick in 2008.

Such fines and penalties are expected to serve as a disincentive to further violations. From the owner down to the ball boys. But here we are again.

What now?

Does anyone think Tom Brady is going to feel the sting of a fine, considering his Brazilian supermodel wife adds $47 million to his own $31 million annual salary?

Belichick’s reputation is as a coach in full control of all he surveys. Of course, one man can’t oversee every act, but had he effectively warned his staff against hinky behavior, the message surely would have reached the equipment room.

That notion leads to an idea on how the NFL might put such nonsense to an end.

Given the NCAA’s history of inequitable enforcement and sketchy investigations, it feels strange to offer such a thing, but the NFL could steal a few ideas from the college administrators.

When a series of violations occur at one university, the NCAA has nailed it for a “lack of institutional control.”

Doesn’t a second major offense in the NFL qualify?

As a penalty, the NCAA bans teams from postseason appearances. There you go. Disallow the Patriots for the 2015 postseason. That’s an attention-getter.

What else? The NCAA takes away scholarships. Good idea.

Maybe for a first major offense, reduce a team’s active roster for game day from 46 to 41, and to 36 for a second offense.

It would never fly with the players’ association, but it would surely discourage top free agents from joining a team on which he might have to play both ways or on every special team, as well.

Realistically, the league is going to have to come up with findings stronger than “probable” and “generally” to go all-out draconian on the Pats. (Would “probable” and “generally” stand up in court against a Patriots’ countersuit?)

But if there’s actual evidence, suspensions will have come into play, and they’ll have to be lengthy to be of punitive value.

Setting down a marquee player like Brady, perhaps even Belichick, would be strong enough to get the league’s attention.

Probably.

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