The stuff of parity: NFL punishes quarterback for winning too much
writes John Teti about “Deflate-gate”. His claim:
The outlandish punishment leveled against Brady and his team isn’t just an overreaction to an inconsequential offense. It’s also an implicit admission that all along, Deflategate has been about the NFL taking one of its most successful teams down a notch, and not about the “integrity of the game.”
For the NFL’s owners, a big selling point of the modern league is its parity. When every team has a fighting chance, the theory goes, fans are more likely to stay interested, enlarging the captive audience.
There are billions of dollars tied up in the idea of parity, and the Patriots are defying it. They aren’t in because they tinkered with some footballs.
This is not a very convincing claim, when you think about it: Tom Brady has been an awesome story for the NFL – a sixth-round pick that made it into the spotlight, (supposedly) good-looking, with a model wife, never in any trouble with the law. If the NFL were to design a poster boy, it couldn’t do much better.
Also, yes, New England has won four Superbowls…over the course of 13 years! That’s certainly successful and given that it’s always been the Brady/Belichick duo, one could talk of a dynasty. But apart from 2003/2004 (ten years between Superbowl wins three and four, btw), this is not dominant and therefore not a problem for parity.
What might be a literal threat to parity is if one team won consistently while all the others went through ups and downs. The Patriots are definitely “guilty” of the first part, posting impressive winning percentages between 2001 and 2014 (170 – 54, missed playoffs twice: 2002, 2008). But do you know who else posted impressive winning percentages in that time span? The Indianapolis Colts (150 – 74, missed playoffs twice: 2001, 2011 – Manning was hurt that year and their 2 – 14 record ruins the nice picture) led by a certain Peyton Manning (responsible for 117 of the wins between 2001 and 2010) – a quarterback that the Patriots fans claimed was coddled by the NFL because he made such a good poster boy (and whose teams weren’t penalized like the Patriots just were), and that posted impressive winning percentages for Denver as well (38 – 10 in three years). Manning’s teams were not as successful as Brady’s in terms of Superbowls though (went to three, won one).
So maybe it is about the Superbowls after all (lets not forget: four wins in fourteen years, two losses). If viewers are turned off by the lack of parity the “dominant” Patriot teams caused, this would show, wouldn’t it? Nielsen Ratings for Superbowls after 2001 that involved the Patriots:
- 2003/2004 (Win) – 41.3
- 2004/2005 (Win) – 41.1
- 2007/2008 (Loss – undefeated before SB) – 43.3
- 2011/2012 (Loss) – 47.0
- 2014/2015 (Win) – 49.7
Nielsen Ratings of Superbowls that didn’t involve the Patriots:
- 2002/2003 – 40.7
- 2005/2006 – 41.6
- 2006/2007 (Indianapolis Colts) – 42.6
- 2008/2009 – 42.0
- 2009/2010 (Indianapolis Colts) – 45.0
- 2010/2011 – 46.0
- 2012/2013 – 46.3
- 2013/2014 (Denver) – 46.4
Check the numbers – not once had a Superbowl involving the Patriots lower ratings than the one before. In fact, twice a Patriots Superbowl had higher ratings than the one after it. In one of the two the Patriots were undefeated – as far from parity as possible – the other one actually had better ratings than the two Superbowls that follow it. So the Patriots in the Superbowl is good for the NFL!
But, writes Teti, the NFL has let other rule breakers off much easier:
You might also recall that last summer, after Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was alleged to have knocked his then-fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in a hotel elevator, the initial punishment was a two-game suspension.
The NFL’s letter to Brady cites his “failure to cooperate fully” as justification for its punishment, so it’s worth noting that in 2010, when Brett Favre declined to cooperate with a league investigation into sexual harassment charges against him, he was fined $50,000—no suspension. But that case was just about Favre creating an environment that was uncomfortable for women, not something important like a missing puff of air.
But if you’re going to take that view, then you have to explain why a similar stink wasn’t raised, for instance, when both the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers were found to be heating their balls on the sidelines during a chilly game they played against each other last November.
It’s also hard to figure—as far as integrity is concerned—why a multi-million-dollar investigation didn’t spring from the godhead of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after the San Diego Chargers were caught applying a sticky, grip-enhancing substance to towels in 2012.
Well, here’s the thing: the NFL is a business and as all capitalist businesses, it doesn’t give a damn about things tangential to its product unless profits are at stake. As far as the NFL is concerned, its players could be partner-abusing, steroid-injecting, cheating assholes – as long as people are spending money on tickets and merchandise and as long as TV and endorsement deals aren’t at risk.
A woman gets sexually harassed or beaten? Who cares?! A women gets harassed or beaten and there is a public outcry? Let’s suspend the player for the entire season!
Some also-rans (Min 5 – 7 vs Car 3 – 8 – 1, San Diego 7 – 9) bend the rules and no one pays attention? Doesn’t matter! A high-profile team does the same and the media is all over it? Bring out the big guns!
Are the penalties over the top? They most certainly are, as Frank Schwab lays out in detail on Shutdown Corner @ Yahoo. But from the NFL’s perspective, they have done the right thing because the Fans (i.e. their customers) agree with them even while thinking that the Patriots are not the only ones to cheat.
Why is that? Maybe, and I drop the objectivity now and write as someone who has typically supported the team on the other side of a Patriots beat down, maybe because the Patriots seem too often to benefit from the grey areas of rules:
- Everyone remembers the Tuck rule, of course, when a fumble was ruled not to be one and the Patriots went on to win the game. That rule was correctly applied at the time but has since been changed.
- Or the 2003/2004 Conference championship game between New England and Indianapolis. The “precision attack” of Indianapolis never got in sync:
Colts players would later publicly complain that the game officials did not properly call illegal contact, pass interference, and defensive holding penalties on the Patriots’ defensive backs. This, and similar complaints made by other NFL teams, would prompt the NFL during the 2004 offseason to instruct all of the league’s officials to strictly enforce these types of fouls.
New England apparently didn’t break any rules but profited enough from skirting them that the NFL felt the need to step in.
- Then there’s this year’s playoffs:
After the game, Harbaugh complained about New England’s unusual formation use on their third quarter touchdown drive. “It’s not something that anybody has ever done before,” Harbaugh said. “They’re an illegal type of a thing and I’m sure that [the league will] make some adjustments and things like that.
And wouldn’t you know it, another case of the Patriots getting the most out of existing rules and the NFL changing the rules afterwards.
- And there’s of course Spygate.
This was not a case of the NFL punishing a quarterback (or a team) for consistently winning a lot. This was a case of the NFL working brand perception after messing this up at the beginning of the year. While certain fans tend to turn on the team winning a lot after a while anyway, enough don’t care as long as their team seems to have a chance. And fixing Tampa Bay or Jacksonville can’t be achieved by punishing New England. A team winning big and profiting from the grey area of rules, however, pisses enough fans off that the NFL knew that’d have the majority of them behind this decision.