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By Tom Cushing


Uploaded: May 14, 2015

Our national bloodsport has thrown itself for another loss. In the past, I've followed it, played it avidly to the tune of four-months in a cast, but more recently turned away from its primitive, hormonal drumbeat. And now it has completely lost me. I do not understand BradyGate ? perhaps somebody can help out, as others are surely as mystified as I.

In case you've been absent from the planet for the past half-year, it began when several balls used by the New England Patriots in an NFL play-off game were found to be under-inflated. The once-hated Pats (I grew up in Buffalo) only won that game by a margin of about eleventy-to-two. Apparently, the League specifies the psi it wants in the balls, but both teams supply their own orbs for use on offense.

Consternation raged during the interminable run-up to the Big Game (not That one, the regional intercollegiate scrimmage of mild import) -- the NFL's championship contest that goes by a title that can't be used for free. The Pats won that game, too. Presumably all their balls had been thoroughly inspected and scrubbed to the League's satisfaction, for that game, but the jockstraps of the powers-that-be remained knotted.

Thus, the League hired the same attorney who handled the Dolphins' sex-and-race harassment incident a few years ago, to conduct a thorough investigation. As a result of its generally inconclusive findings, the team has been fined heavily, they have lost two coveted draft choices, and their star QB Handsome Tom Brady has been suspended, without pay, for four games (I am guessing that his lost compensation may exceed the amount of the team fine, but I'm disinterested and bad at math).

Now, I have several questions that perhaps someone can answer, and yes ? disclosure: Brady did graduate from my alma mater, with the same academic major even, several years after me.

First: does a mild deflation ? little enough to not have been apparent to the ball handling referees, really matter? Is a football inflated per the rules at 95 degrees in the Miami August the same as one identically tumescent in 20-degree Boston, in January? If it is easier to catch, as seems to be the claim, is it not also easier to intercept? In that rout of the Colts, is there any particular catch that is suspect? And some receivers wear gloves, and stick-um ? don't they, too, make the ball easier to catch?

Second, is this not a self-inflicted wound by the League? Why do the teams supply, and control, their own balls anyway? Just checking them sometime in-advance of kick-off would appear to be an invitation to adapt them to each team's preferences.

I'm aware, for example, that in more-civilized baseball, the home team adjusts the line-up to their stadium, and the stadium to their line-up. Sinker-ball pitcher? Soak-down the higher-mown infield to slow down those grounders. Good bunters? Tilt the baselines inward toward fair territory. As they say in another popular 'sport' (NASCAR): "if y'all ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'."

Guessing again, but I think the NFL could change the rules and hire minions to care for its balls a Lot cheaper than it will end up expending on this teapot tempest.

Third, there are due process concerns. Do we know that other teams don't do the same thing?

Why single-out ol' Handsome Tom for punishment? The team's center, whose name you don't know, handles the balls on every play, too, and several others often do. Shouldn't they be fined, too? And four games, unpaid, on inconclusive evidence of culpability (if less-than-enthusiastic cooperation) -- when you can clobber your fiancée in an elevator, on videotape, for a lot less of a consequence? What are we, much less America's impressionable Youth, supposed to conclude from this 'crisis?'

The entire Affaire des Ballons Vides suggests poor rules, misplaced priorities, no foresight as to how this would go, scapegoating, poor management processes, a lack of leadership and a general cluster-huddle. They might have avoided most of that by invoking a simple rule change to prevent this over-zealous application of competitive instincts in the future, by everyone.

The Game has many (many) more pressing issues than BradyGate -- problems that are fraying its emperor's robes. That they have chosen to make such a spectacle of this one is not why they've lost me, but it's a part of why I won't be coming back, anytime soon.