Tom Brady called initial accusations of the New England Patriots deflating footballs “ridiculous,” but it appears the team may have cheated in the AFC Championship. The NFL has found that 11 of the 12 New England game balls were underinflated when they beat the Indianapolis Colts, according to ESPN.
League rules stipulate that game balls, of which each team provides 12 of their own, must weigh between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. According to the report, the Patriots’ footballs weighed “significantly” less than what the NFL allows.
When the dust settles, what punishment will the Patriots face?
There isn’t any real precedent for a punishment in such an instance in the NFL. The infraction calls for a minimum fine of $25,000, but the league can levy a much stiffer penalty, if they deem it necessary.
"If any individual alters the footballs, or if a non-approved ball is used in the game, the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000,” states the NFL’s game manual.
In college football, USC was punished for deflating footballs in 2012. When it was discovered that one of the team’s student managers deflated footballs during the first half of a game, the Pac-12 fined the program $25,000. The manager was fired, and head coach Lane Kiffin denied having anything to do with the incident.
It's unclear how the league will determine the severity of the alleged crime based on the result of the AFC Championship. Deflating footballs didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the 45-7 rout, and the practice of tampering with game balls might not be that rare.
During the regular season, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers freely admitted to CBS analyst Phil Simms that he’s tried to get away with using a football that doesn’t fall within the league’s weight restrictions. Former quarterback Brad Johnson told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times that he paid $7,500 to have footballs altered in Super Bowl XXXVII, in an attempt to make sure they weren’t too slick.
Some have called for harsh penalties that would affect New England’s pursuit of a Super Bowl championship. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon thinks New England shouldn’t be allowed to compete for the title against the Seattle Seahawks, while Bob Kravitz, who initially broke the story of the NFL's investigation, has asked for Belichick to be suspended for the big game and possibly fired.
Such harsh penalties aren’t likely, but New England could face more than just a small fine. Because the Patriots have a history of cheating, Commissioner Roger Goodell might choose to give the organization a stiffer penalty than one that he’d give to another team that had been caught deflating footballs.
New England was given a lot more than just a $25,000 fine in 2007 when they were punished for “Spygate.” Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and the Patriots were fined $250,000. The team also lost their first-round selection in the next NFL draft.
NFL senior executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent told Pro Football Talk on Tuesday that the league’s investigation would end in two or three days.