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September 17, 2007

The Patriots Act (Update)

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, an ad-hoc panel of 12 tax law professors “mostly agreed” that Coach Bill Belichick will be able to deduct his fine from his income taxes. The primarily rationale: Technically, the NFL found that he was guilty of breaking a rule, not cheating.

This distinction might also explain why there was no talk of a forfeit: A forfeit might be an appropriate punishment for cheating, but not for breaking a rule.

September 14: It would be an understatement to say I don’t follow football: A few years ago, my son told me that Rae Carruth was arrested on murder charges, and when I drew a blank, he told me he was a Panther. I told him I thought the Black Panthers disbanded decades ago.

It so amused the little brat to explain to me that Carruth played for the Carolina Panthers, an NFL team.

So anyway, seems that last Sunday, the coach of the New England Patriots was caught using surveillance equipment to steal the signals from the New York Jets. The punishment: a $500,000 fine, a $250,000 fine for the team, and the loss of a draft choice.

What am I missing here? Why wasn’t the most obvious penalty the forfeiture of the game?


  1. I am impressed with anyone who remembers or knows who Rae is. Shows a depth of commitment to following football and its participants. I ranted on my blog about how absurd it was there is no suspension of Patriots HC Belichick…doesn’t miss a day of work. The forfeit of the game would definitely have made a better statement as well that even if this has been going on elsewhere, for years, etc. it has to stop. Fines and draft picks were not enough.

    Comment by Sportsattitude — September 14, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

  2. Well, obviously “a depth of commitment to following football” doesn’t apply here. It happens that my “day job” is writing about crime-related news, and I covered the Carruth story well beyond the level of my interest.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — September 14, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  3. Personally, it amuses me that in football, it’s considered GOOD sportsmanship to violently grab your opponents and slam them into the ground, but BAD sportsmanship to peek at their signals…

    Comment by Brian Leahy — September 14, 2007 @ 6:39 pm

  4. Well I’m a Jets fan, for reference, and I don’t think the Patriots should have forfeited the game. For one thing, the Patriots won 38-14 and they took the camera away in the 1st quarter. I don’t think it had that much of an impact on this game. For another, it’s just a really dangerous precedent to set. You need to make sure it’s something really, really serious before you start overturning the results of games.

    I think the punishment is good. Losing such a high draft pick is a big blow, and $500,000 is the max fine. Even at their huge salaries, that’s a significant blow to the ol’ wallet. Suspending Belichick would just be silly. He’d still be involved, they’re still running his plays, from his coaching and practice, and even if they lost a game or two, the Patriots are still going to run away with their division, so it wouldn’t hurt them nearly as much.

    Comment by Count Shrimpula — September 14, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  5. They have been doing it for a long time. They were caught in Green Bay last year. They were warned before the season. They kept on cheating and even used unauthorized radio frequencies, probably to send the info on to the field. There should be a forfeit and suspensions.
    The Sultan on Sports

    Comment by tsos20 — September 14, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  6. Why would you need to make sure it’s “really, really serious”? It can never be really, really serious – it’s just a game. It’s not even a game that you or I are playing – someone else is playing it, and we watch it for entertainment. Nothing in the world could be LESS serious.

    Comment by brien — September 15, 2007 @ 12:40 am

  7. No, it’s not a game: it’s a business. Corporate espionage (such as the stunt Westjet tried against Air Canada a few years back) is usually handled through the courts, but in this case there’s a governing organization that has the right to impose rulings.

    Never make the mistake of thinking that professional sports is “just a game”. It’s big, nasty business, and it can have enormous effects on the economy in general.

    Comment by Charlene — September 15, 2007 @ 6:57 am

  8. The problem with causing a game forfeit is that it punishes the fans. They want to be entertained. You don’t want to say “Sorry, game’s over, we don’t care that you paid for your tickets; go home now.”
    More importantly (for the league) it would seriously piss off the TV advertisers, who paid money for their ad spots.

    Comment by Sengkelat — September 17, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  9. I don’t follow pro sports, but I do have a question. If the game is forfeited, anyone make the spread? Would the bookies just keep all the bets? Return them (hahhah, like that would happen)? What would they do in Vegas? Could this have been a factor in the decision?

    Comment by Lola — September 17, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  10. Sengkelet, baseball games are occasionally forfeited, yet the National Sport still lives.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — September 17, 2007 @ 2:38 pm

  11. supposedly, the reason why the game wasn’t forfeited was because the footage wasn’t going to be used in that game, it was going to be used for future games in the season…

    Comment by Elizabeth — September 17, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  12. Elizabeth, I hadn’t heard this before, but it is possible: The two teams play one another again in December.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — September 17, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

  13. Well, forfeiting one baseball game out of 162 is a lot different than one football game out of 16.

    And Bill, it’s potentially worse than just playing again in December. They always play two times a year because they’re in the same division, but last year they also ended up playing in the first round of the playoffs as well.

    Comment by Count Shrimpula — September 17, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  14. But… if “forfeiting one baseball game out of 162 is a lot different than one football game out of 16, then it’s also true that cheating to win one football game out of 16 is more serious than cheating to win one baseball game out of 162.

    There should be no rule in any sport above “no cheating” because without that one, why have any rules at all?

    Comment by Cidu Bill — September 17, 2007 @ 6:28 pm

  15. $750,000? Chicken feed – the FIA just fined the McLaren F1 team $100 million, and excluded them from the 2007 constructors championship to boot.

    Comment by Mark Jackson — September 17, 2007 @ 10:19 pm

  16. Baseball is a sport for entertainment. Basketball is a sport for entertainment. Football is a behemoth that lifts the Rockies and the Plains and the cities and the deserts on its back as it flexes its 4 legs and rises up, stretching the earth’s crust to involve every living thing on the planet.

    Football is a battle, a war played out in an afternoon. Like Rollerball and boxing, it’s a life and death sport where the influential meet to watch. As mentioned, with so much money riding on games, and with so much going on in the boxes, the only thing that would warrant canceling the game would be something that would make judging the strategy, the individual plays, AND the outcome impossible. (e.g. one team had little remote control devices that caused opposing team members’ legs to give out AND the public didn’t know which knees were wired.)

    No member country would forfeit a war just because someone didn’t follow the Geneva Convention. (Although they may give some land or lose a head later as a penalty.)

    Just my thoughts…

    p.s. It seems to me that knowing pitching signals in baseball would really screw up a game. (and there are sharp eyes on all the coaches that can see the catcher.)

    Comment by Kevin Andresen — September 18, 2007 @ 2:39 pm

  17. How can deliberately and premeditatively spying on the opposing team (at the coaching level even) ever not be considered a “really, really serious” infraction?

    And in the same vein, just what is the logic behind ‘deliberately breaking the rules’ ≠ ‘cheating’? Skirting the rules for the advancement of your own team is the very definition of cheating in my book.

    And so what if it is “just a sport” or “all business”? Cheating is still disruptive within the confines of either of these areas and needs to be discouraged. Would you teach your children that it’s ok to cheat simply because the outcome is unimportant, or conversely, too important? This kind of thing must always be greeted with strict discipline whenever it’s discovered, or else the whole endeavor quickly becomes pointless.

    Forfeiture of the game (in addition to the fines) is really the only proper punishment here in my opinion.

    Comment by Altair IV — September 19, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  18. Oh, and as for the ‘justification’ that forfeiture would be a disservice to the fans…well, degrading respect for the sport is also a disservice.

    And yes, it would hurt the fans some, but games get called off for other reasons also. There’s always an implicit awareness that a game may be canceled for whatever reason. They’ll get over it. Same goes for the media and advertisers. Heck, the media would have a field day for weeks disassembling the whole scandal.

    Besides, it’s not really a punishment if it doesn’t hurt. If the fans get angry, then the offending team is going to feel it, much more than they’d feel a simple slap-on-the-wrist fine. That’s the kind of thing that really forces offenders to shape up.

    Comment by Altair IV — September 19, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

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