The Punishment Should Fit The Crime

When I called in sick this past Friday, I mentioned that I had an idea for a post, which may or may not remain timely throughout the weekend. Fortunately, or unfortunately – however you want to look at it – the topic remained timely. It should have been about the Rolex24, which is always a nice kickoff for the racing season to take our minds off of the long IndyCar offseason.

It did seem odd to be watching a live race on a day that we woke up in Nashville to snow-covered lawns. Congratulations go to Chip Ganassi and IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Dixon and Kanaan can now add this impressive achievement to their Indianapolis 500 victories along with their IndyCar championships.

Unfortunately, that’s not the topic. It’s something that has gone from the sports page to the front page in a matter of days, and will surely turn the stomach of most Colts fans. Yes, I’m talking about the deflated football issue regarding the New England Patriots of the NFL. I refuse to label it Deflategate. Why does every controversy these days have to have –gate attached to it? I was fourteen years-old when Watergate took place. Most of those that like to label everything with –gate weren’t even born in 1972; but I digress.

There is a racing correlation to this, so hang with me.

In case you’ve lived under a rock, the Patriots have been accused of deflating their footballs under the minimum pressure, during last week’s AFC Championship game, in order to afford a better grip and make the ball easier to catch in the cold and damp weather. It should be noted that the discrepancy was discovered at halftime, when the score was 17-7. The balls were re-inflated to the legal pressure at the half, and the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 on their way to a 45-7 romp in punching their ticket to Super Bowl XLIX. As many have noted, the Patriots could have probably played with bricks and still won the game.

The controversy has produced a lot of humorous posts and photos on social media, while there have been way too many references to Tom Brady’s balls for the past week.

But there have been many that fail to see any humor whatsoever in the incident. Many have labeled this as felonious cheating. Over the weekend, I read that a CNN columnist proclaimed that the Patriots should be tossed out of the Super Bowl. Seriously? Most haven’t gone that far, but many feel that either the Patriots organization should be fined and/or lose draft picks or that coach Bill Belichick be suspended either for the Super Bowl or for next season. Many are rationalizing that this is more egregious than when the New Orleans Saints paid bounties for injuring opposing players, resulting in the one-year suspension for coach Sean Payton.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see the comparison. The Saints were trying to injure and cripple players, possibly ending careers and causing life-long problems for players. The Patriots were trying to make a ball a little easier to throw and catch in inclement weather. Were they completely innocent? No. Is this an act that should throw them out of the Super Bowl? Absolutely not. In my eyes, this is a misdemeanor. It’s not a felony.

In racing, there is an old adage that says “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’”. That’s the NASCAR translation of “pushing the envelope is encouraged”. Sometimes rules infractions are obvious. Other times, it’s a very gray area. Even when it appears obvious, there are extenuating circumstances.

In the waning laps of the 1995 Indianapolis 500, Scott Goodyear passed the pace car during a restart, on his way to what may have been a victory. It’s pretty black & white. You can’t pass the pace car on a restart. I was sitting in Turn Four that day and saw Goodyear accelerate when the pace car did not. The pace car had been going very slow on restarts that day, and this was no exception. Goodyear had committed to his accelerated pace and decided he was going – with or without the pace car. I suppose he assumed that USAC and Chief Steward Tom Binford would understand his actions. I don’t think Goodyear was cheating; he was trying.

Unfortunately for Goodyear, USAC didn’t see it that way. They black-flagged him to come in for a stop & go penalty. Goodyear ignored the black flag, and USAC stopped scoring him. Goodyear was eventually credited with fourteenth, even though he crossed the finish line ahead of Jacques Villeneuve on Lap 200.

In 1972, Roger Penske won his first Indianapolis 500 with Mark Donohue as his driver. The race had come down to Donohue and Jerry Grant, who was driving for Dan Gurney. Grant was leading, but had to pit on Lap 188 when a tire was going down. He accidentally pitted in the pit box of his teammate Bobby Unser, who had retired much earlier in the race.

The crew connected the hoses from Unser’s fuel tank. Whether they actually took on fuel is debatable, but the rule of not taking fuel from another driver’s fuel tank had appeared to be broken. Grant’s last laps did not count and was credited with twelfth. Who knows? Grant may not have even known that was a rule, although it was brought about after AJ Foyt used a refueling rig from another car in 1961.

But speaking of Foyt – there have been other times when some racers were fairly obvious with their fouls, yet the officials were thought to look the other way. It’s probably safe to say that Gordon Kirby is not a huge fan of AJ Foyt. Kirby swears that Foyt was allowed to get away with far more than any other driver in any other series in history. He sites examples of Foyt carrying extra fuel in the frame tubing when he ran in NASCAR and sneaking a tank of nitrous-oxide under the leg of his driving suit. Eddie Cheever has talked openly about Foyt picking up officials by the collar and physically throwing them out of his garage. If that’s true, could any other driver or owner get away with that? Um…no.

Many have opined this week that if the Patriots go on to win their fourth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick; that their legacy will be tainted. We already know that the Patriots had been caught trying to videotape opposing team’s signals in 2007 (another –gate scandal) . They were fined and lost draft picks in the next draft. Due to this offense eight years ago, some are calling the Patriots “repeat offenders”. Others have wondered out loud what else they are doing and just haven’t been caught.

When Helio Castroneves won the Texas race in 2013, his undertray was found to be out of compliance. The tunnel exit was determined to be less than one-tenth of an inch too low. I’m no engineer, but those I talked to about this at the time said this would have been a disadvantage. Still, Team Penske was fined $36,000 and they were docked fifteen entrant points; although Helio was allowed to keep his twenty-two point lead at the time.

In the week following the race, many pontificated that if Castroneves went on to win the championship, it would be forever tainted. Helio didn’t win, but did any of you even remember that before I brought it up less than two years later?

Like Helio’s infraction, in the grand scheme of things, the Patriots deflating footballs seems like nothing. If the Patriots had won by 10-7 instead of 45-7, it might raise a few more eyebrows. Had the Patriots not been caught cheating in 2007, or not won three out of four Super Bowls in the first half of the previous decade, would we be hearing about this at all?

After reading this, you might determine that I am a Patriots fan. I’m not. This Sunday, the New England Patriots will be playing in their eighth Super Bowl. In the previous seven, I found myself cheering for them only once – when they beat the Rams after the 2001 season; and that was because I was still smarting from the Rams beating the Titans just two seasons earlier. But for the record, I’ll be pulling for them this Sunday.

Whether it’s racing or football, everyone is going to try to get any possible advantage over their competitors. It’s the nature of sports. Whether it’s deflating a football slightly, doctoring a baseball or having a friendly pop-off valve that allows a little extra boost – everyone is trying to stay ahead of the game. If it’s a huge advantage that directly causes an outcome, they should be heavily punished. If not, deal with it and move on. The punishment should fit the crime.

My hope is that once the teams get settled in Glendale, Arizona this week; this will all blow over. Then we can hear about how football is played instead of how they are deflated. Then a week from today, we’ll be into full racing mode for the year.

George Phillips

19 Responses to “The Punishment Should Fit The Crime”

  1. As a Colts fan with a finger on the pulse of some other Colts fans, I can say this:

    1. None of the fans I know and have interacted with want to replace the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Even if the Colts did win, we know there’d be controversy about it from that day on. Plus, a lot of us view this year’s team as one that was flawed but overachieved and still needs time and draft picks to truly contend. So while we think there’d be a shot at beating the Seahawks, we realize it might be just a bit early for Indianapolis to try.

    2. There are those of us, me included, who just wish this whole thing would go away because it’s not making anyone look good, Indianapolis included. And there are a few who want the Patriots punished hard. But again: I can’t think of anyone I know personally who’d want Indy to replace New England in the SB.

    3. Some of us are also sick of the Controversy+”Gate” naming convention. Due to that, some Twitter wags have coined a different term: Ballghazi. I’ll leave it up to the individual to decide if that’s better or worse. 😉 😀

  2. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, ol’ AJ tells a story himself in his book about a time he was accused of cheating in NASCAR: they said he was carrying five gallons of extra fuel in his fire extinguisher. AJ says “five gallons of fuel in a fire extinguisher? Hell, that would be damned dangerous! Besides, it was more like three gallons….”

    Living here in Indianapolis and being a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan I’m BEYOND tired of the sore losers here and how much they HATE the Patriots! My dear old mom lived in Maine for 15 years and became a huge Patriots fan. She moved back to Indy and cannot wear her Patriots hats or T-Shirts here because of all the crap she gets from the small-minded poor-sport losers who populate this area! Of course if she were me or another 200 lb guy nobody would say a word to her, but she’s a little white-haired 74 year old lady who happens to love a team that folks in Indy HATE! It’s even worse than the AJ-Mario stuff of decades ago!

    Indianapolis did not used to be like this. I’ve lived here for 38 of my 52 years and have never seen as many poor sports here as I see now….

    Phil Kaiser

  3. This was a clear case of cheating by the Patriots. It is the second major cheating episode in less than ten years, and with the same coach.

    Let this pass, and like baseball a hundred years ago, the problem gets worse until the game itself is threatened by cheating. Baseball did not address its cheating problems, which led to game fixing and the Black Sox scandal. Even the appearance of impropriety is dangerous to a team sport like baseball or football.

    Finally baseball had to ban crooked players, ban the spit ball and other illegal pitches, and add more umpires to the game.

    Nothing should really be done about the Superbowl (other than watch the Patriots closely) but there should be fines, loss of draft choices, and the suspension of Coach Belichoke for a year.

    Should Indycar tolerate cheating? Only if they want to end up like pro wrestling.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      I’ll grant you it looks like mild cheating; what is NOT clear is by whom. THE PATRIOTS as a whole DID NOT CHEAT. Now did someone on their coaching staff cheat? Or on their team? Or was it someone not directly under Belichick’s control, like a ball boy who wanted to get back at the Patriots for some perceived wrong or slight against him/her?

      My point is, Bob, that you’re making my point about sore losers. YOU have no idea what happened in New England, but here you are on this forum stating with certainty “(t)his was a clear case of cheating by the Patriots.” No, Bob, it’s a clear case of poor losers WANTING the greatest football team of the past dozen or so years to be brought down by a scandal because it’s very hard to bring them down on the field, especially by the hapless Colts. Evidence has been supplied by star quarterbacks all last week showing that this is typical and normal quarterback behavior. But because that muckraker (and poor loser) Bob Kravitz from The Indianapolis Star was tipped off to it it’s now a national news story. Ridiculous!

      I just wish US Citizens were as mad about our country’s rules (the US Constitution) being violated these days as much as they care about a stupid football game’s rules being violated!

      Phil Kaiser

      • Phil Kaiser Says:

        Now remember that the Pats outscored the Dolts 28 to NOTHING after Halftime when the balls were aired up again, go figure, huh?

        Patriots cheating… only in your dreams, hahahahahaaaa!

        • Well, I despise both teams, so I’m not a sore loser. And I have actively protested Ubama’s trashing of the Constitution, so you are wrong on that score, although I agree that more citizens need to be concerned about that issue.

          But you cannot tolerate cheating, and when 11 of 12 balls are too low after being tested, someone is cheating. And its not the first time this team has been caught. Think of the message it sends if New England gets away with this. There will be more and bolder cheating. When will it stop? If the NFL has any brains, they will make a statement here and hit the Patriots pretty hard.

  4. Only in America. I’m surprised that no one has suggested that Obama was somehow involved.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Interesting the difference between Castroneves and Penske’s punishment after their 2013 Texas win ($36,000 and 15 entrant points) and Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne’s punishment after they were found having disallowed aerodynamics on the car after their 2012 Texas win. Wilson was docked 5 championship points and the Coyne team was fined $7,500. A pretty big difference for what appears to be essentially the same situation to the layman.

    I’d say that these two situations are a fair comparisons to the Patriots deflated football scandal, given the difficulty of comparing racing and football. Neither driver lost their victory, nor was the reputation of either driver or team affected. So too would it be with the Patriots, if they had not come in to the AFC Championship game with a poor reputation already.

  6. Unforunately the rule today is “It’s only cheating if you get caught.”

  7. The more the balls are inflated, the rounder they become. This, of course, would favor those Hoosiers who are well known for their round ball skills. I think the Patriots just wanted a more pointy ball.

    On the plus side this nonsense has created some jobs. Even Bill Nye the Science Guy got a gig explaining that air pressure decreases at higher altitudes. So if the balls were stored up on a shelf prior to the game, that would explain the difference.

    There is some grainy footage of a suspicious looking person in a hoodie in a grassy area near the bench.

    Is it May yet?!

    • Can we go racing now please?

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      I hope you bring up “Bill Nye” in jest, for if you look him up, he is NOT a scientist but is an ACTOR portraying a scientist.

      Go on, look it up, he has no scientific degree. He’s an actor.

      Phil Kaiser

      • billytheskink Says:

        I believe Nye does have an engineering degree and once worked in the aerospace industry. Does that make him a scientist? I don’t know, but perhaps he’ll build an aerokit for the 2016 Indycar season… Inertia is a property of matter, after all.

        Beakman, of course, was portrayed by a career actor.

  8. I remember the 1996 Citrus Bowl was won because George’s Vols used illegal cleats on a rainy day in Orlando. The winning play was a Manning-to-Nash TD pass where the Ohio State defender slipped and fell as Nash’s Illegally long cleats gripped the turff with ease. Tennessee should have been stripped of the win. Still irks me to this day.

  9. I’m ready to see the road course in Brazil. I’m very curious about the new aerokits. And Scott Dixon is a very good race car driver.

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