With last week’s revelation of the Patriots using video cameras to spy on opposing coaches during games, Bill Belichick now has more in common with Barry Bonds than initials and a surly attitude.

Bonds, who averaged 33 homers, had a .410 on-base percentage, 471 stolen bases, three MVP and eight Gold Glove awards through the first 15 years of his career, before the steroid allegations arose, was already en route to the Hall of Fame. Belichick, with his brilliant game-planning, immaculate draft record and innovative schemes, was regarded as a coaching genius, and his .704 winning percentage with the Patriots and three Super Bowl titles reinforced that. The Pats, for a while, were the de facto “America’s Team” with Tom Brady its golden boy and Belichick the sagacious sensei. But like Bonds, Belichick has besmirched his own legacy.

And like Bonds, whose rapid muscle growth, subsequent power surge and links to BALCO, have cast a cloud of cynicism over his records, Belichick’s espionage tactics should cost him as much. Take nothing away from his abilities, and don’t doubt how astute a strategist he is, but we should question how much cheating has padded his stats and bolstered his reputation.

Using such a clandestine scheme to steal signals is as much, if not more of a performance-enhancer in football than steroids are in baseball. Even a juiced-up batter must have enough of a discerning eye, coordination and impeccable timing to make perfect contact with a ball moving at 90 mph and changing direction. A steroid-using pitcher still requires precision to hit his spots and to control the movement of his breaking pitches. But in football, the gridiron chess match in which each play is carefully designed and strategy is paramount, knowing the opposition’s next move and being able to gear up for it is a tremendous advantage. The quick slant can be thwarted by a zone blitz; the square-in route can beat the Cover 2 defense. It’s simply a matter of knowing when to use what.

And the Patriots certainly have the talent to execute, which makes it more of a crime and reflects poorly on the so-called genius’ judgment. New England, which has arguably the most stacked roster in the NFL, was taking on a Jets team with an ill-fitting 3-4 defense that ranked 29th against the run and an offense with a deteriorated line. With such an advantage in skill and coaching, it was a stupid risk to cheat. Not to mention, Jets coach Eric Mangini was Belichick’s assistant less than two years ago. If the cheating had been going on for years, as many in the league suspect, Mangini would have known about it. Why then would Belichick, who has given his former protégé the cold shoulder since he took the Jets job, not think that his plan could easily backfire?

“Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players,” Belichick said last week.

That’s an admission of guilt, and given the precedence that Commissioner Roger Goodell has set with his iron-fisted castigation of players, the NFL was too lenient on the Patriots. Belichick will earn $4.2 million this season, so a $500,000 fine isn’t enough of a financial sting. The Patriots franchise is worth an estimated $1.4 billion (third wealthiest in the league), so $250,000 from them is like scooping a pint of water from the Atlantic Ocean.

Videogate is as much of a blow to the league’s image as players’ police records. So Belichick should have been fined $1.5 million, the organization $5 million, and the team made to forfeit the week one victory and be stripped of its first two picks in next April’s draft. That, like the lengthy suspensions of Pacman Jones, Michael Vick and Chris Henry, would send a message to the rest of the league that those shenanigans will not be tolerated. The cheaters have already prospered, so it’s only right that they suffer callous consequences.


1 comment so far

  1. Loren on

    so is that really ALL that’s gonna happen to him?? he wont be suspended? are they taking that game away??

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