When the NFL hands down their punishment on New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for grabbing the elbow of a referee following the team's 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, officials will likely take into account Belichick's history and consider the punishment given to New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
The NFL was perceived to have inflicted a rather light punishment on Belichick in Sept. 2007 for spying on opponents practices compared to the punishment Payton received in April 2012 for a bounty scandal. While Payton was suspended for one season for his involvement, Belichick avoided suspension but had to pay a steep fine.
From the footage, it appeared that Belichick had grabbed the official in an effort to get him to respond to the final call of the game. Both the official and Belichick were seen running onto the field following the conclusion of a game that had several penalties and ended with the Ravens kicking the winning field goal, which barely made it within the uprights.
"I'm not going to comment about that (incident)," said Belichick in the postgame press conference. "You saw the game. What did we have, about 30 penalties called?"
Should Belichick's not receive a substantial punishment, the NFL will likely receive criticism for preferential treatment. The league recently told players and coaches to treat the replacement referees with more respect, and Belichick appeared to have disregarded that memo.
Belichick is expected to at least receive a fine, and perhaps a suspension. The contact appeared to be minor, but the league will have to decide whether Belichick’s punishment deserves to be more severe in order to send a message to the rest of the players and coaches.
The NFL, which has instituted rule changes to punish hard hits, appeared to have sent a message to coaches and players following the Saints’ bounty scandal, and the league may want to make a similar point about the replacement referees being treated better.
Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of communications, told Reuters that Belichick’s contact with the official was being looked at.
Referees are considered to be untouchable, and there have few been incidents of coaches touching referees in the NFL.
The NBA has had incidents of players touching or bumping referees. Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Van Exel was famously suspended for a forearm shove of Ron Garretson in April 1995.