With Hollow Punishments, Why Wouldn’t the Patriots Cheat?

bill belichick

“You’re going to get a time-out. I mean it this time.” There is only so much weight that certain threats carry. The value is stripped out when the consequences aren’t met. More accurately, punishments, not promises, prevent wrong-doing.

Why then, are Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots not harshly punished?

The Patriots have been caught cheating. Again. The fact that this is a repeat offense is all the indication that whatever penalty imposed the last time was clearly not strong enough. Driving over the speed limit carries a specific consequence. But those who choose to continue doing so, even after getting caught in the act were obviously not deterred by their previous experience. The same could be said of the Patriots.

When New England was caught videotaping the New York Jets’ sideline for defensive signals, the Patriots were subsequently fined $250,000, docked a first-round draft pick, and head coach Bill Belichick received a $500,000 fine.

Really, what did it prevent?

According to an ESPN report, the Patriots used deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game. Perhaps coincidentally, or maybe due to the violation, the Patriots crushed the visiting Colts 45-7 and advanced to the Super Bowl in the process. Much could be argued about the actual impact that the footballs had on the game, as well as the definition of ‘cheating,’ and how this scandal may or may not fit the mold. Whatever the belief, the opinion is relatively moot.

That’s the point.

Nothing matters. Literally nothing of real consequence will come from this. The Patriots will not forfeit the game and the team will still be able to compete for the Super Bowl. While National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to announce the severity of any punishments that may stem from this, nothing short of a forfeit will have any real impact. Make no mistake, it won’t happen.

When it doesn’t, what message is it sending to the Patriots? “Don’t cheat. If you do, you’ll still be able to advance with a win, and all records will remain intact. So, don’t do it.”

In reality, the league can’t force the Patriots to forfeit the game. They can’t force them to replay it. The results will stand and this will go down as nothing but trash-talk fodder between fans. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it will be another accomplishment for Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots’ organization. They won’t care what the rest of the world thinks of them.

Maybe the better question to ask is, “Why wouldn’t they cheat?” Again, regardless of whether or not the Patriots deflating the footballs gave them an edge that aided in victory, their biggest punishment will likely be the loss of draft picks. Playing that scenario out, the benefit of drafting a human being to play football for a professional team is to help said team win the Super Bowl. Nothing else.

If cheating accomplishes the same feat for the same cost, what is the deterrent?

What is the difference between drafting someone in April that might help win a Super Bowl years from now and winning one this year? Absolutely nothing.

The real issue, therefore, lies in the ability to maintain a level playing field at all times. For starters, the league should — and likely, will — provide the footballs for each game. Simple. But what next? Whatever the new method for gaining an unfair edge — spies, drones, Trojan horses — the league will certainly not be able to foresee it until it is too late. Because of that, only the punishments can prevent the crime.

Somehow, the National Football League will have to raise the stakes for each violation, and must seriously consider how to enact a potential forfeit for a game — this obviously could not be done retroactively. It is apparent that fines and draft picks are not yet enough, and until losses or legacies are affected, it is unlikely that anything will change.

Unfortunately, right now, all we have are empty threats and weak punishments. If a child could continually avoid a time-out, certainly Bill Belichick could continue to cheat.

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Mario Mergola
Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola