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No Suspension for Belichick:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000, and ordered the team to pay an additional $250,000 and lose one or more draft picks, for violations of league rules against taping an opposing team's play signals. The Patriots will have to give up their first-round draft pick in 2008 if they make the playoffs this year, their second and third-round picks if they do not. Said Goodell, "This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field." Nonetheless, Goodell decided not to suspend Belichick "largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension." Although this is a precedent-setting penalty, ESPN analyst John Clayton still thinks the Patriots got off easy.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. No Suspension for Belichick:
  2. What Penalty for the Patriots?
tarheel:
As does SI's Peter King.
9.14.2007 10:14am
WLM:
Does anyone have a link to the supposed "longstanding rule" that was broken? I've been following this story, and have yet to see anyone actually quote a rule.
9.14.2007 11:03am
tarheel:
According to King's article (linked above):

In the league's rule book, on page 105, the video ban is as clear as day. "No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game," the rules state.
9.14.2007 11:05am
Zathras (mail):
As quoted by tarheel, "No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game"

Belichick is claiming that he simply had a different interpretation of the rule, but he did not elaborate. How can he claim this, when the rule is absolutely unambiguous?
9.14.2007 11:10am
WLM:
Sorry, should have read Peter King first: "In the league's rule book, on page 105, the video ban is as clear as day. 'No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game,' the rules state."
9.14.2007 11:14am
Phantom:
So let me get this straight. Peter King says "In the league's rule book, on page 105, the video ban is as clear as day. 'No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game,' the rules state."

Is that right?

--PtM
9.14.2007 11:23am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The punishment is not appropriate for the stated rule. The punishment, and the outcry, is for cheating. Is there a comparable rule against binoculars and sketch books, or any other method of stealing signals that would not involve video recording devices in those areas?

How did this spying facilitate Ellis Hobbs' 108-yard kickoff return?
9.14.2007 11:28am
RainerK:
The rule prompts honest competition and fairness? How so? Pardon my ignorance, but I don't get it. Should be obvious to the league officials that they are fighting windmills. With $ millions at stake, the best they can do is try to curb some of the worst excesses of unfairness. If these guys believe their own self-serving rhetoric it's just as well they don't get any of my money. Besides that which the state gives them without asking me.
9.14.2007 11:28am
Old33 (mail):
What strikes me about all this is that the defensive signs, etc., are all in plain sight. Anyone on the opposite side of the stadium can watch the signs with binoculars.

If we were talking about stealing an actual playbook, or intercepting the headset communications of the opposing team, I can see how that's a problem.

But where is the expectation of privacy in defensive (or offensive) signs being relayed by hand signal with 75,000+ witnesses?
9.14.2007 11:31am
Mike Keenan:
I thought what coaches did all week was watch videos of their upcoming opponents games. How can they do that if video recording is not allowed? Does the NFL provide some kind of official video?

And why doesn't the NFL post the rules online? I couldn't find them -- except for a summary.
9.14.2007 11:35am
rhodeymark (mail):
Clayton helpfully suggests a suspension for Sunday nights grudge rematch with the Chargers. Riiiiiight. I would think the more appropriate suggestion would have been the future Jets game in Foxboro. What fun that would have been!
9.14.2007 11:35am
Stryker:
Old33, the signals ARE in plain sight, but they are coded. Being able to mechanically record fast movements that cannot be easily and quickly recorded by hand gives a huge advantage. It is akin to having to listen to a coded radio broadcast and interpret the code without being able to use a tape recorder. When you add the fact that there is only 3 hours of playing time, it is nigh impossible. What makes this most unfair, however, is that one team was abiding by the rule, where the other was not.
9.14.2007 11:38am
rhodeymark (mail):
David Chesler - good one :) How about this? (intercepted hand signal) Triple coverage on Moss (Brady headset) "They're only putting three on Randy - go for the homerun" - lol
Full disclosure - I'm a diehard Steeler fan, only married to a Brady jersey wearer.
9.14.2007 11:42am
RainerK:
Stryker,

How do you code these signals? The essence of coding is that gien the same input, the output is unpredictably different each and every time. Humans can not do the complex calculations in a reasonable time.
9.14.2007 11:43am
AntonK (mail):
The penalty is way too light. The Patriots should've had to forfeit the game. That would have guaranteed that this infraction would never happen again, anywhere.
9.14.2007 11:47am
BandarBush (mail):

And why doesn't the NFL post the rules online? I couldn't find them -- except for a summary.


I spent an hour searching for the rulebook last night and couldn't find the official rules for 2007 (couldn't even find a copy available for purchase). I did find the 2006 official rule book.
9.14.2007 11:48am
John (mail):
The funny part is that it is perfectly legal to station an operative with a video camera in the stands! So long as he is not "in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game" the video is OK. Isn't this sort of a gigantic loophole?

Further, if the loophole is as it seems, then the offense (videoing from the field) causes very little harm to the game beyond the harm that is perfectly legal. Under this analysis, the penalty is very disproportionate.
9.14.2007 11:54am
AF:
John: The warning sent to teams this fall also banned video taping "at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game." So if there's a loophole, it's pretty small -- you'd have to argue that your guy in the stands isn't "staff."

AntonK: I agree completely about forfeiting the game.
9.14.2007 12:03pm
Litigator:
Another loophole: Perhaps the Patriots could ask fans to video tape the signals, and send an employee to collect them at half-time. A bounty of an autographed item for a high quality tape might be more than enough.
9.14.2007 12:05pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
in baseball, this is a fine art.
9.14.2007 12:10pm
Mike Keenan:

The funny part is that it is perfectly legal to station an operative with a video camera in the stands!


I doubt if video recording is allowed in the stands. I know it isn't allowed at Reliant Stadium in Houston. I don't know if it is policed though.
9.14.2007 12:10pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
If Mangini knew the Pats were stealing signs (he did), and acting on that information (don't know), you can't really say that the situation favored the Patriots.
9.14.2007 12:15pm
Mike Keenan:
I checked the Giants Stadium web site and video recording is prohibited.
9.14.2007 12:19pm
Litigator:
Just a thought: Is there a copyright claim here? The NFL sells the exclusive rights to record the game to CBS, Fox, ESPN, et al. Of course, they would never sue a team, but it'd be an interesting question.
9.14.2007 12:30pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
So which place was the guy videoing from: the field, the coaches box, or the locker room? I would have thought a scout would be in the press box.
9.14.2007 12:39pm
John (mail):
I wasn't aware of the League memo about videoing from other locations--just going on the quoted language from earlier comments.

I take back what I said--sorry!
9.14.2007 12:41pm
dejapooh (mail):
Thinking about Justice and Fairness, If he cheats to win a game, and in fact ends up winning that game, shouldn't the game be forfeited? In the end, anything else rewards the cheater.
9.14.2007 12:42pm
spot:
I believe that part of it is that the patriots issued a sideline pass for the guy who was doing the filming. The pictures I have seen had him on the Jets sideline while he was filming. Thats escalates the seriousness of the act a great deal in my opinion.
9.14.2007 12:50pm
GetReal (mail):

"How do you code these signals? The essence of coding is that given the same input, the output is unpredictably different each and every time. Humans can not do the complex calculations in a reasonable time."

What?
Have you ever played baseball or football?
9.14.2007 12:57pm
Zathras (mail):
There have been some interesting additional allegations that have surfaced recently. Paul Zimmerman of SI has reported that a couple of coaches have had their headsets mysteriously stop working while playing the Patriots at Foxboro. He also mentions an exchange overheard between Charlie Weisand the Bucs' defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin after the Bucs beat the Pats at Foxboro.

"We knew all your calls, and you still stopped us," Weis said. "I can't believe it."
9.14.2007 1:01pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I don't know the subtleties of plays or hand signals, but if babies can learn spoken language, if people can learn the much richer vocabularly of ASL, if poker players can detect tells, it can't be too hard for a few trained observers to scorekeep "Hat, two fingers, elbow" and correlate that to the observed play. Even with injected noise, the signal can be found. (If you use humans for the pattern detection, the software for the correlations isn't too difficult.)
9.14.2007 1:11pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I think the penalty was disproportionate. Instead, the Patriots should lose their franchise from the NFL. Create a new team, based in Worcester.
9.14.2007 1:32pm
EconomicNeocon (mail):
He's now a proven cheater. From now on, the Pats coach should be known as "Barry" Belichick, with three Superbowl Victories* attached to his name.
9.14.2007 1:51pm
Cold Warrior:
1. So Charlie Weis must've cheated when he was the Pats defensive coordinator? And the Irish are 0-2? Perfect excuse to dump him! No cheating allowed at ND! You can't even phony up your resume and keep a job there.

2. So Eric Mangini parlayed his job as Pats offensive coordinator into a head coaching job with the Jets. And all those Patriots' successes that he took credit for were based (in part) on cheating, albeit cheating by the defensive coordinator. Yet Mangini was never so sporting a guy as to turn in Belichek and Weis when he worked for/with them. And Mangini took that knowledge of the Patriots' cheatin' ways with him to the Jets and ratted out Belichek. Oh, the moral ambiguity is hurting my brain!
9.14.2007 1:58pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Belichick broke a rule and received a stiff punishment.

Justice, fairness etc. have nothing to do with it. The media does not like Belichick because he doesn't kowtow to them. Fans of other teams don't like Belichick because he wins, retools his teamn and wins again.

(Packers fan fyi)
9.14.2007 1:59pm
r78:
Ranier

I am not an expert, but I believe the "coding" arises from the use of "indicator" signs.

That is, there is a stable of fairly consistent signs that are used all of the time by a certain team. But to code the signal, they use a particular indiator signal that changes each game, or each quarter or something.

So, when they signal, they flash several different signs all meaning different things but throw in the indicator sign before the actual sign so that the person getting the sign will know to ignore all of the other signs except for the one following the indicator.

This is a grossly oversimplified explanation, as the signing conventions are often very elaborate.
9.14.2007 2:09pm
Miss. Lawyer (mail):
Does this place an asterisk next to New England's superbowl victories similar to that many would place beside Bonds's home run records?
9.14.2007 2:16pm
random guest:
I'm confused: if the rule says one thing (i.e., 'No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game') and the league's interpretation of the rule says another (i.e., adds 'at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game'), then why was B. necessarily bound by the league's interpretation?
9.14.2007 2:28pm
quasimodo (mail):
this is a little like card counting in Vegas. Why don't they hire someone like a card counter and give him (or her) some binoculars and a cell phone. Shouldn't take long for a bright person to pick up a pattern. No rules against that, is there?
9.14.2007 2:42pm
Extraneus (mail):
I'd always wondered why there was such bad blood between Belichik and Mangini over Mangini taking the Jets job instead of one outside the division, which was supposedly Belichick's advice. Now I guess we know.

Anyway, I agree that this is a mere slap on the wrist, and thought a forfeit would have been more appropriate, and fair, as it would both punish the perpetrator and reward the victim.
9.14.2007 3:09pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Weis was the offensive co-ordinator at NE. Romeo Crannel of the Browns was the defensive co-ordinator.

Crannel didn't learn anything to judge by his Browns performance.
9.14.2007 3:20pm
rhodeymark (mail):
WAY too much misinformation here - not surprising though.
Bob from Ohio is correct, the rest - not so much.
1) Weiss was OFFENSE - Mangini was DEFENSE
2) Mangini had to be physically escorted from Foxboro because after accepting the Jets position, he allegedly tried to subvert players and other coaches.
3) Parcells said that this is more widespread than any of the "golly gosh" commentary would lead one to believe. Belichick's biggest sin was arrogance.
4) (Good) teams assign color coded wristbands and use other countermeasures to cross up would be sign stealers.
9.14.2007 3:26pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
so, by all this vitriol, Nick Saban of the Dolphins should have the same punishment for doing the same thing last year? And of course, since Mangini stopped this guy in the first quarter and siezed the tape so Belichek couldn't have used it to win makes no difference to those who want the pats to forfeit? please.
9.14.2007 3:27pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
Linky

hmmmnn... link didnt work.. trying again....
9.14.2007 3:29pm
rhodeymark (mail):
BTW - victim, my rear. The camera was confiscated early in the 1st. The Jets were only victimized by their return to mediocrity.
9.14.2007 3:29pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
On the plus side, the Pats are going to have everybody breathing down their necks all season, so when they win the AFC championship this year there won't be anything that can be said about it..
9.14.2007 4:39pm
EH:
If we were talking about stealing an actual playbook, or intercepting the headset communications of the opposing team, I can see how that's a problem.

Note that just yesterday as well, the McLaren auto-racing team was fined $100,000,000.00 for receiving and using a Ferrari "playbook" (as it were). Also, both the McLaren and Ferrari mechanics have been fired.
9.14.2007 5:20pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
I'm with some of the other commentators. I don't understand why forfeiting the game wasn't a consideration, or the recommended punishment. You cheat, you lose, seems like a pretty basic rule going all the way back to schoolyard games. And would that really be that much worse than forfeiting draft picks?
9.14.2007 5:46pm
ras (mail):
I presume the Pats wouldn't have been doing it unless it conferred an advantage, which means they can and did read the other teams' signals to their, the Pats', advantage, against the rules.

They should forfeit the Jets game as a result. Sure, there were lots of other factors involved, but we don't determine the winner by analyzing stats; if you're caught cheating, you should lose, not get paper credits to a victory anyway.

The other issue, whether it's a wise rule or not, is a separate one. It's prob a bad policy and during gametime - aot to hiring a p.i. to film another team's practices beforehand etc - I'd offer that all's fair, or should be, and if a signal is picked up on, then it's picked up on.

Linebackers often look for tells from an oposing running back (e.g. some backs will take their stance a tad differently if they know they're getting the handoff). And what is a QB's job if not to read the play, incl'g pre-snap indicators of a blitz in the form of more tells? And if a DB were to inadvertently hear a QB tell his receiver "this one's coming your way," should he stop the play and inform the official. What if a player can read lips?

But still, the rules say that what the Pats did was to knowingly cheat. Their trophies now have asterisks.
9.14.2007 7:51pm
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:
Their trophies now have asterisks.

No, they don't. No more than the Broncos, or the Steelers, or any other NFL teams that broke the rules and did better for it.
9.14.2007 8:02pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
You cheat, you lose, seems like a pretty basic rule going all the way back to schoolyard games.

Football has a very well established system of in-game penalties. Is it "cheating" to have 12 men on the field? It would certainly give that team an unfair advantage. Should the penalty for that be a forfeit?

(I'm not arguing that there shouldn't be a penalty, but forfeit would be too harsh. Loss of a draft pick? I don't know, you already lose in the draft if you win too much, the league likes things even and exciting.)
9.14.2007 9:07pm
EconomicNeocon (mail):
David Chesler:

I'd defer to a league ref, of course, but other than possibly falling within the "unsportsmanlike conduct" rule for sideline misconduct -- 15 yards and possibly an ejection as the consequence, with more to be possibly doled out by the league office -- this circumstance seems to be more a violation of NFL policy and a deeper lack of respect for longtime principles embedded in the game.

Refs are charged with being on the lookout for too many men on the field and all the other game rules infractions. For the most part, those rules involve the players. Coaches earn penalties from refs usually by yelling at the refs or otherwise interfering with the refs or the game.

Using electronic technology in a way that is not permitted goes beyond those kind of infractions. The mitigation that's apparent to me here is that from the accounts I've read, NE was not really hiding the camera, though I'd guess it was quite small, maybe one of those hard drive versions that would appear to be a still camera? It would be much worse if they were caught installing a series of hidden cameras that were trained on the sideline. To the extent you're suggesting that the league should have a minimum punishment with discretion to impose more for these situations, I'm all for it.

Regarding the asterick issue, as my post above suggests, for many observers this forever taints "Barry" Bellichick's achievement. In my view, the taint is to a greater degree than Bonds. It's not a question of whether he cheated: He did. You're left to wonder how else Bellichick cheated? Allegations that malfunctioning communications equipment were staged seem much more likely to be true. It takes a lot of time to build a reputation as a great coach. You only have to get caught once to earn the title of Cheater.

With Bonds, MLB had failed to ban substances at the time the alleged use occurred and the only hard "evidence" implicating Bonds is leaked grand jury testimony that is not officially before MLB. Also, it's well-known now that substance enhancement was widespread, which works against Bonds only because he now owns a record held by only two other players in the last 80 years who are by all accounts squeaky clean.
9.15.2007 1:30pm
Ari (mail):

NFL rules state "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game." They also say all video for coaching purposes must be shot from locations "enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."

Straight out of the NFL handbook. What does it mean? Video taping IS ALLOWED, but only in designated areas: Belichik's man was in a nondesignated area. Every other team tapes for signals and formations from the booth. You get no right to privacy in the NFL! That's Bill's only crime: camera location.
9.15.2007 2:13pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
As for Bonds, as I've blogged aren't we all better fed, better medicated, and many of the athletes better trained, than Ruth and Aaron? And modern batters are facing modern pitchers and fielders. (Can't find a link to Stephen Jay Gould's article on why there are no more .400 hitters.)
9.15.2007 4:37pm