Friday, September 14, 2007

Patriot Games -- Roger Goodell “disciplines” Bill Belichick, much to do about nothing

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell Thursday evening announced New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick would be fined $500,000, the Patriots an additional $250,000 and if the Patriots make the 2007 NFL playoffs (the Patriots were the pre-season Super Bowl favorite) they will lose their first-round draft choice and second- and third-round picks if they don't. In what was his first serious case of having to dish out discipline against one of the NFL’s marquee coaches, power franchises with one of the NFL’s more influential owners – Roger Goodell failed miserably. Cheaters should never prosper, but at the end of the day Goodell let Belichick off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, sending a terrible message to NFL players, your sins are unforgivable, but when it comes to management, if you can pay the fine, you can do the crime.

Let’s clear up one issue, Bill Belichick is one of the highest paid NFL coaches, the fine will mean little if anything to Belichick’s personal wealth. Winning three Super Bowls has made him worth the millions of dollars Patriots owners Robert Kraft pays him each year. According to a December 2006 report during his seven year tenure as Patriots coach Belichick is one of the top producing NFL coaches at $244,561 per point. Since Kraft hired Belichick prior to the 2000 NFL season, Belichick’s has average $2.8 million per year ($19.6 million for the seven years), and according to the Forbes report the $19.6 million doesn’t include bonuses and incentives Kraft built into Belichick’s contract.

Bill Belichick has stood and delivered for Robert Kraft. The five previous seasons before Belichick arrived in New England the Patriots were “good” but far from being great. The team averaged 9 wins per season between 1995 and 1999 and has averaged 11 wins a season in the seven years Belichick has been the teams’ head coach. Coaches are hired to be fired, deliver wins, make it to the playoffs, win the Super or you’re on the outside looking in. In the last seven NFL seasons Bill Belichick has delivered everything that was expected of him and a great deal more. And Robert Kraft – when Belichick took over the Patriots before the start of the 2000 season Forbes Magazine’s annual financial valuation for NFL franchises determined the Patriots had a subjective value of $464 million. Seven years later in the latest Forbes list released Thursday evening, Forbes believes the Patriots are now worth $1.2 billion. Kraft who purchased the team in 1994 paid $172 million. The value of Robert Kraft’s initial investment 13 years ago has increased by more than $1 billon and Kraft one of the NFL real powerbrokers owes most of that to what Bill Belichick has delivered on the football field.

“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,” Commissioner Goodell wrote in a letter to the Patriots.

NFL policy states that “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 that all video shooting locations for club coaching purposes “must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead.”

In a memo to NFL head coaches and general managers on September 6, 2006, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson said, “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.”

In his review of the facts, Commissioner Goodell determined that the Patriots’ use last Sunday of the video camera, which was seized before the end of the first quarter, had no impact on the outcome of the Patriots-New York Jets game.

Commissioner Goodell also believes that Patriots ownership was unaware of Coach Belichick’s action, but determined that penalties should be imposed on the club because “Coach Belichick not only serves as the head coach but also has substantial control over all aspects of New England’s football operations. His actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club.”

Commissioner Goodell informed the Patriots that the NFL would closely review and monitor the Patriots’ coaching video program, effective immediately.

“I specifically considered whether to impose a suspension on Coach Belichick,” Commissioner Goodell wrote. “I have determined not to do so, 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.”

Fair enough Goodell believes Kraft didn’t know what Bill Belichick was doing to damage his name and the New England Patriots brand – it remains to be seen if Robert Kraft, a man who has spent a lifetime building his reputation, will forget what Bill Belichick has done to the good name he has built up.

Kraft's impact on the Patriots was immediate and it didn't take him long to earn the respect of his NFL colleagues and peers. Since 1994, he has played an integral role on many of the NFL's most prominent league committees. As a member of the broadcast committee, he played a principal role in negotiating the two most lucrative broadcasting contracts in the history of sports. He was also instrumental in putting together a deal that made New England - headquartered Reebok International, Ltd. the official and exclusive apparel manufacturer for the NFL, helping to create a new model for the sports license apparel industry. Kraft is now widely recognized as one of the most respected and influential owners in sports.

There is no doubt whatsoever this incident has done damage and harm to Bill Belichick’s personal and professional reputation – but Bill Belichick did the damage all on his own. Bill Belichick bears full responsibility for his actions – his own personal assault on fairness in the National Football League.

“If the words ‘cheating’ and ‘Bill Belichick’ are in the same sentence in an NFL statement, it could have a substantial negative impact for the brand value” of Belichick, Stephen A. Greyser, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School told The Boston Herald before Thursday evenings NFL announcement.

“I think it does cast a cloud over him,” Bruce Clark, an associate professor at Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration said. “If I were a corporate person looking for a speaker, this might make me think twice.”

Michael Braun, a professor of marketing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, told The Boston Herald he thinks the affair could end up enhancing Belichick’s image.

“I disagree that this kind of offense will damage his reputation,” Braun said, noting that gambling and steroid-use controversies are far more serious and harmful. “It could be one of those things that the Patriot fans will look back on years from now and say, ‘Do you remember that Belichick controversy?’ ”

Braun’s comments make a great deal of sense, as long as you’re a fan of the New England Patriots you’re likely going to forgive and forget. If you’re a New England Patriots fans who has purchased a replica Super Bowl ring you may have other issues, but one isn’t your loyalty to Bill Belichick.

However, if you take the time to look at the bigger picture, there is no doubt Bill Belichick’s leadership will be forever questioned by anyone prepared to offer an ounce of objectivity in determining what Bill Belichick’s lasting legacy to coaching will be. Will Bill Belichick end up in the Football Hall of Fame – likely, but let’s be very sure of this – now and forever more Bill Belichick will be branded as a cheater, a man who spat at the rules of the game making a mockery of the sport Bill Belichick has committed his career too. Rest assured Bill Belichick your legacy will include both triumph and shame -- and for that you’ll always be held accountable.

Thursday evening The Associated Press reported (whether its sour grapes or loser lament) members the 2005 NFC Championship Philadelphia Eagles who lost 24-21 to Belichick’s Patriots in the Super Bowl are now wondering if the Patriots broke the rules in that game – a game where the Patriots won the Lombardi Trophy.

"Do I think about it? Mmm hmmm," said Sheldon Brown, the Eagles starting cornerback. "It's crazy. I just don't know how far back it goes. Something's not right about that."

Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins found the accusations troublesome.

"Now there's always going to be questions about the situation," Dawkins said Thursday. "Was it great adjustments at halftime or what?"

Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward told the Pittsburgh media earlier this week that he suspected the Patriots had some type of inside information on the Steelers before at least one of the teams' two AFC championship games since the 2001 season. While Ward said the Patriots knew a lot of Pittsburgh's calls, none of the Eagles could offer any type of solid proof of any shenanigans.

"For me to think back two years ago about something they may or may not have done, it's not worth my time," running back Brian Westbrook said.

Donovan McNabb -- who told The Associated Press the Eagles would never stoop to those kinds of tactics -- was surprised to hear the allegations against the Patriots. But he said the suspicions might be overblown.

"One thing people are forgetting is that even if you have the answers to the test, you still have to take the test," he said. "If they have an idea of what's coming, those guys still have to be able to execute the play."

That doesn't mean McNabb won't clear some space in his jewelry box. For a city that last saw a pro team win a championship nearly 25 years ago, the Eagles might accept a retroactive one.

"Maybe we'll get our ring back," said a chuckling McNabb. "Maybe we'll get the real one."

"You look at the New England Patriots, and you wonder, 'Have they been cheating all this time? Have they been getting an unfair advantage for their football team?' “said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth. "It makes you wonder how much a factor that was during their three championship years."

“Here's the problem with Goodell's decision, “ESPN’s John Clayton wrote. “Whether by design or not, the Patriots had themselves covered for such a penalty because they are so good at what they do. They acquired the 49ers first-round pick in a trade that enabled the 49ers to select Joe Staley. They have an additional third-round pick from the Raiders in a trade. They have enough draft choices to survive the loss of one first-round choice.

“Initial reaction around the league was negative. At the very least, Belichick should have been suspended one or two games along with the draft choice penalties. Those two games could be the difference between the Patriots making the playoffs or not making the playoffs. They have a tough schedule, and it will be hard for them to win more than 11 games with the quality of opponent they'll face.

“Belichick now has the ability to coach 16 games, get into the playoffs and take the team to the Super Bowl. As everyone knows, Belichick doesn't think about the future. He focuses on the next game. Sure, he lost the ability to use signals of other teams to help him make offensive adjustments. He'll deal with that. He's the best coach in football.”

And what will history say about Bill Belichick? Ponder this – what exactly is the difference between what Barry Bonds is alleged to have done and what Bill Belichick has done? What exactly is the difference between what Tim Donaghy has done and what Bill Belichick has done. What exactly is the difference between what Floyd Landis has done and what Bill Belichick has done? There may be different degrees of how these men may have perverted the rules of the games they have played, coached or officiated but when all is said and done what these men have done is believe they were (are) above the rules of the game(s) they have been a part of. Shame on each of them for that – and a great deal more.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Boston Herald and The Associated Press

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