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Examining the benefits of eavesdropping

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I was instantly skeptical of ESPN’s report regarding eavesdropping allegedly engaged in by Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis due to two people:  Bernie Fine and Bill Polian.

Fine is the former Syracuse basketball assistant coach who was the subject of an ESPN report of sexual abuse that felt like an effort to compensate for ESPN’s failure to do meaningful reporting in connection with the Penn State scandal.  In this specific context, the fact that ESPN’s horde of reporters didn’t know about the Saints’ bounty scandal invites speculation that they felt compelled to break new ground, even if the report contains potentially significant flaws — such as no evidence or contention that Loomis actually engaged in eavesdropping.

Polian is the former G.M. of the Colts and Panthers and Bills, who now works for ESPN.  Polian consistently has been explaining on the air that the allegation against Loomis makes no sense because there’s no useful information that he could have harvested by listening to the conversations among opposing coaches.

I’ve been waiting in the two days since the story broke for ESPN to explain how a guy like Loomis could have turned such information into a tangible benefit, especially since ESPN’s Bill Polian has been telling the world that Loomis couldn’t have.  To date, it hasn’t come.  And so the audience is left to reconcile on its own an ESPN report that Loomis had the ability to eavesdrop and ESPN analysis that Loomis had nothing at all to gain by actually doing it.

Meanwhile, a source with intimate knowledge of NFL game-day operations tells PFT that, contrary to Polian’s explanation, useful information can indeed be gleaned from the communications.

As the source explained it, even if the person hearing the conversations couldn’t decipher the verbiage for calling plays and translate the information into a real-time benefit before the next snap, an eavesdropper could hear assistant coaches scheming, adjustments they are making or considering, opinions regarding the performance of the players on either team, strategies for attacking the offense/defense, possible vulnerabilities, and anything else that could be filed away for future reference.

“If not used in the game it can provide a valuable database that would have significant value for future game plans, and as well when coaches change teams,” the source said.

While none of this means that Loomis eavesdropped, it provides the counter to Polian’s insistence that the information would have had no value.

The next question is whether ESPN will attempt to clear up this obvious source of confusion for anyone in the audience who is having a hard time harmonizing the report from John Barr with the analysis from Bill Polian.

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45 Responses to “Examining the benefits of eavesdropping”
  1. babyhorsemorgan says: Apr 25, 2012 1:27 PM

    Just from looking at Loomis, you know he is guilty. Like looking at Williams, you know he is a bully/coward and a jerk.

    “Oh no, coach, Eddie’s knee looks bad. One more crack and he is done for the year. Hope the Saints don’t notice it.”.

  2. jenniferxxx says: Apr 25, 2012 1:27 PM

    Since we don’t know the details it’s impossible to speculate. Spying is a fishing expedition … you get information and see what you can make of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the smart thing to do … or if you gained an advantage or not. All that matters is if you did it.

  3. 49erdynasty says: Apr 25, 2012 1:29 PM

    What did he say?!

  4. AlanSaysYo says: Apr 25, 2012 1:33 PM

    Deadspin made this very point 2 hours ago, using Polian’s own words to explain the possible advantages. I’d offer a link, but I’m sure that would be frowned upon.

  5. makimaguro says: Apr 25, 2012 1:34 PM

    “If not used in the game it can provide a valuable database that would have significant value for future game plans, and as well when coaches change teams,” the source said.

    —–

    Exactly one of the things New England was doing…

  6. northshorejag says: Apr 25, 2012 1:38 PM

    its another example of the sports media like the political media just running around regergitating sound bites they are fed. they know if they do any real investigative reporting then they will lose access.

    so why sit out in the cold when they came be inside all warm with a nice a expense account and per diem.

    I do believe ESPN new nothing about bounties, unless EVERYONE knew about them and like with Penn State colluded to keep it quiet. Just like the whole damn town knew Sandusky was a rapist.

  7. hawkforlife says: Apr 25, 2012 1:39 PM

    I said that here when this was first posted as did others. Don’t you read any of the comments posted by your readers?

  8. miainthemia says: Apr 25, 2012 1:43 PM

    There’s a much simpler reason to believe (or not) the original report. Is there any tangible evidence that such a system was even set up?

    I have not heard anyone from the Saints say that there was no system set up to “eavesdrop” on sound in the coaches booth. If the system was installed, why would it?

    I know, innocent until proven guilty…but to install something like that costs money. And time. And planning. And instructions on exactly how to set it up. Decisions like that aren’t made off-hand, with no intention of using said system. Furthermore, once it’s set up, it could easily be expanded so that more people can use it.

    Let’s be real – if they installed it, they used it.

  9. nineroutsider says: Apr 25, 2012 1:44 PM

    Do you really think the actual gain will matter if it is real? The governmental investigators are going to conclude, “Well, we proved that he illegally wiretapped the coaches box, but we are dropping the charges because we can’t figure out how the information was useful.” The actual gain doesn’t matter all that much, hate to break it to you as you mightily struggle to wrap your head around it. (Have you considered that only the play call is in verbiage that he can’t understand, the rest of the communication is in English? Coaches have discussions during games…in English, shocking I know. Surprised a league source had to turn you on to that…ever seen NFL Films?)

    The actual gain didn’t matter to the league regarding the bounty program; the Saints didn’t injure players more than any other team, but the act and the intent were enough for the league. Same with this issue, except now the government gets to play…if it’s real.

    I think we are still in the stage of finding out if this is real or not. Let’s cross that bridge and see where that heads us. I’m reserving judgment until there is actual proof that this happened. Every NFL fan has to be sick of this crap!

  10. rajbais says: Apr 25, 2012 1:44 PM

    John Barr = Ass!!!

    Look at his Pacman crap in 2009!!!!

    Also, I know that the website’s editor has been talking about Bernie Fine (pardon the college basketball mentioning) and ESPN’s a excessive reporting about him and how nothing ultimately happened.
    How disgusting is it that ESPN would rather care about breaking story about child molestation or a filthy act than the act itself???

    This is why I do not respect yes ESPN as a news organization anymore!!! They have blowhard, idiot writers that preach morality while their employer/institution doesn’t commit to it!!!

    I know that there are respectable people at the network, but when there is too much morality preaching or mongering going on please consider the majority of their employees as “the boys who cried ‘Wolf'”!!!! Their history of this is disgusting and it’s time to give them the cold shoulder!!!!!

  11. flannlv says: Apr 25, 2012 1:45 PM

    There hasn’t been any evidence that Loomis even had the ability to listen to the play calls. Who cares if the information was valuable or not. Don’t you first have to establish he had the system in place before we jump to the second and third questions?
    Oh, of course not. That might reduce our clicks.

  12. saintswillwin says: Apr 25, 2012 1:46 PM

    The point Polian was trying to make was that there isn’t enough time during a game to get the info from the wiretap to the field in enough time for it to be of any use.

    Unless a team was listening to a divisional opponent, it would be at least one to three years before Team A would play Team B again. And as often as teams replace head coaches and coordinators, anything learned in one year is probably not going to still be used a year or two later.

  13. bpjensen says: Apr 25, 2012 1:48 PM

    The database idea seems like the most advantageous.

    I know there are Fortune 500 companies that have people who solely study the speeches, presentations, and written product/articles of their competitors’ CEOs just to try and predict the possible strategy of the competitor.

  14. bucs13 says: Apr 25, 2012 1:50 PM

    Interesting.

    The basic story line I’ve been reading here is that a friend of Loomis says that there couldn’t possibly be any competitive advantage gained from doing this, and since there couldn’t be, they wouldn’t do this. Therefore, it’s all a bunch of lies. Also, disgruntled ex-employee and irresponsible ESPN.

    Here’s what I know- the Saints are being investigated. The idea that there is *no possible advantage* that could be gained by listening in doesn’t pass the laugh test. That doesn’t mean anything one way or the other, and these are, to date, just allegations. The Saints deny the allegations. More will be revealed.

  15. kidpresentable says: Apr 25, 2012 1:51 PM

    Watch how easy this would be to gain an advantage even if a “layman” like Loomis is listening to the play.

    Opposing coach on 4th down: “(complicated football jargon too advanced for an NFL GM to pick up on) Green 30, X post, Z slant, Y out”

    Loomis (thinking): That sounds like a passing play, but they’re sending a punter on the field.

    Loomis sends Bat Signal to d-coordinator…d-coordinator sends in play to combat fake punt…fake punt stopped. Granted, Aaron Brooks probably botched the the next play, but for that one moment, the Saints had an advantage.

    Also, as Deadspin pointed out, if they can hardwire the signal to Loomis, they could hardwire it to the coordinators as well.

  16. granadafan says: Apr 25, 2012 1:58 PM

    Anyone who thinks that the useful info can’t be garnered to give your own team an advantage is narrow minded and focusing only on the coded description of play calling instead of game flow conversations.

  17. beerbaron says: Apr 25, 2012 2:02 PM

    You really needed an expert insider to tell you this? Most of the commenters here pointed out the same things and our “intimate knowledge” is usually limited to what McDonald’s currently sells on the dollar menu.

  18. 69firebird says: Apr 25, 2012 2:02 PM

    You actually had to find out from someone in the know thought there could be an advantage? Don’t you have common sense? Of course there is an advantage to listening to the other coaches regardless if it’s just the GM.

  19. sg419 says: Apr 25, 2012 2:04 PM

    Oh great
    Another story with an “unnamed source”
    We all know that unnamed sources are pure as the driven snow.

    What would the media do if they did not have unnamed sources. They may actually have to work for a paycheck.

    I bet if an unnamed source criticized Obama, we would find out who he is and what his motivation is in about 24hrs.

  20. r0b1b0y says: Apr 25, 2012 2:14 PM

    Plausible reasons for doing it in spite of there being absolutely no benefit to it is: A) he could B) mischief is fun.

  21. plako21 says: Apr 25, 2012 2:16 PM

    Seriously you needed an inside source to tell you this?

  22. ilovefoolsball says: Apr 25, 2012 2:17 PM

    I can just see the gaggle of girly giddy reporters at ESPN now.

    Producer: Oh now we really got something. Colon Crowherd, Dug Globlieg, Van Smelt, Ryan Ratsilly, Freddy Coleslaw, get in here, we have something new for you to blabber about on the radio and act like you know what you’re talking about.

    Dug Globlieg: We really got the Saints, oh this is big, this is huge, this is…fun! I’m having a blast! I think I peed a little!

    Colon Crowherd: Man I can’t wait to get on the radio tomorrow and just rip into this.
    It’ll be big, it’ll be huge! We’ll have analysts and former players and coaches.
    Hell we’ll even get some local New Orleans reporters to come on the show and bash them over the head.

    Ryan Ratsilly: Really guys? I mean come on, really? If you’re the Saints it’s just, I’m not buying it that you didn’t do this. I know we don’t have the facts and these are just allegations but, really guys?

    Van Smelt: Yeah I mean it’s obvious that they’re guilty of whatever anyone accuses them of now. The good thing is that we can say this and report this and if it turns out not to be true we can just say that it came from an anonymous source. Reminds me of when I was in college and I was saving up money for a $1.50 hot dog at the campus food mart, those were the good ole days.

    Freddy Coleslaw: Coming up next, would Mickey Loomis have been executed on the spot if he did this and he was a black man? We’ll answer that coming up next on the couch and coleslaw show after the break.

    Producer: GO GET EM GUYS! Who needs source checking and facts? We’re ESPN damnit!

  23. sonvar says: Apr 25, 2012 2:20 PM

    The best record the New Orleans Saints during the timeframe in question was 9-7. With 2005 they went 3-13. Even if this was in place and used it wasn’t helpful. Regardless, I see no point in Loomis or the Saints lying about this.

  24. twodat says: Apr 25, 2012 2:20 PM

    Mike McCarthy and Jim Haslett must be guilty too as well as Venturi. What crooked bunch of guys

  25. ozz2012 says: Apr 25, 2012 2:22 PM

    Be careful when disagreeing with the all-mighty NaPolian. As Indy fans learned… we be’s stoopid compared to the genius light that Bill deems to shine upon us football-illiterate mouth breathers….

  26. dddr1ver says: Apr 25, 2012 2:37 PM

    This is like spygate all over again. Of COURSE they can use the information. The flaw in the logic of those that say teams “can’t” use the information (here and in spygate) is that it assumes that in order to be useful you have to decode the entire language (which would be impossible). But that’s not the case.

    For example, imagine the advantage of knowing 3-4 times a game with 100% certainty that your opponent was going to blitz. (You don’t think Tom Brady or Drew Brees would be able to exploit that knowledge?)

    That would be easy to figure out. All you need to know is when the team blitzed and the check out the code words they used and/or hand signs they made before the play. The next time you see/hear the same code you know what is coming.

  27. j0esixpack says: Apr 25, 2012 2:37 PM

    It would be worthwhile for Florio to revisit Lee Groscup’s 1967 “Sports” magazine expo which examined the spying and eavesdropping habits of NFL icons including:

    George Halas
    Lamar Hunt
    George Allen, and more

    My guess on the Saints is that this is just an unsubstantiated rumor by a disgruntled employee, but let’s let the investigators do their work

    No doubt Roger Goodell is happy to see the focus shift away from his own Injury Reporting Policies that allowed coaches to try to injure and kill vulnerable players in Bountygate, but I also think he would rather the average football fan keep their head in the sand and remain in denial about the NFL’s history of espionage.

  28. lionsfan54 says: Apr 25, 2012 2:37 PM

    Wait… 2 days ago you were sure that no advantage could be gained. What changed? Backpedal much?

  29. babyhorsemorgan says: Apr 25, 2012 2:40 PM

    You can tell when someone is eavesdropping. They wear giant Mickey Loomis Ears.

  30. j0esixpack says: Apr 25, 2012 2:55 PM

    makimaguro says: “If not used in the game it can provide a valuable database that would have significant value for future game plans, and as well when coaches change teams,” the source said.
    —–
    Exactly one of the things New England was doing…

    ——————————————–

    That was Belichick’s reasoning as to why he was not breaking any rules

    The 2006 memo from the Commissioner made clear that filming of signals was OK from the stands but prohibited for Game Day use from the sidelines

    Since Belichick uses those tapes for post-game analysis of play calling tendencies, he figured he was in compliance with the rule.

    The punishment handed down by Goodell was because Belichick out-lawyered Goodell – not because the NFL has any problem with signal filming in general

    (most fans remain clueless about that, seemingly ignoring the fact that most coordinators continue to cover their mouths when calling in plays even today.)

  31. meanmark says: Apr 25, 2012 2:56 PM

    You’re reaching, Florio. All of this stuff that might be useful in the future can be gleaned very easily just by watching the game film. You don’t need to eavesdrop on the conversation to be able to review exactly what the teams did during the game. It’s all there on the film (or I guess it’s probably all digital now).

  32. infectorman says: Apr 25, 2012 3:05 PM

    makimaguro says: Apr 25, 2012 1:34 PM

    “If not used in the game it can provide a valuable database that would have significant value for future game plans, and as well when coaches change teams,” the source said.

    —–

    Exactly one of the things New England was LEGALLY doing UP UNTIL the beginning of the 2007 season. 1 whole game. Wow!

    It’s well known to most fans that teams change up their signalling from inter- divisional games
    to avoid telegraphing plays to their well-known opponents as well.

    Keep trying haters…

  33. 805_9er says: Apr 25, 2012 3:06 PM

    If there was a system in place for Loomis to listen then it’s pretty naive to assume he was the only one listening. Why run the risk if there’s no benefit?

    During the alleged years of use the Taints were respectable and after the flood their record went to hell. Coincidence?

    Too bad nobody can believe anything the Taints say…

  34. swagger52 says: Apr 25, 2012 3:28 PM

    Who Dat seems inappropriate. It should have been….

    What Dat?

    and

    Kill Dat?

    I was getting sick of all those feel good stories about Sean Payton. If it smells like crap, then it usually is crap.

  35. mark0226 says: Apr 25, 2012 3:29 PM

    miainthemia says: Apr 25, 2012 1:43 PM

    There’s a much simpler reason to believe (or not) the original report. Is there any tangible evidence that such a system was even set up?

    I have not heard anyone from the Saints say that there was no system set up to “eavesdrop” on sound in the coaches booth. If the system was installed, why would it?

    I know, innocent until proven guilty…but to install something like that costs money. And time. And planning. And instructions on exactly how to set it up. Decisions like that aren’t made off-hand, with no intention of using said system. Furthermore, once it’s set up, it could easily be expanded so that more people can use it.

    Let’s be real – if they installed it, they used it.
    ===

    According to sources, the system was set up by Randy Mueller to listen in on the Saints’ coaches, so that would be the reason for incurring the expense of installing it. The allegation is that Loomis had that system rewired to listen to the opponents’ coaches. If all audio wires terminate in the same room, this would be an easy switch, but considering coaches booths are on opposite sides of the stadium, it would probably be a major re-wiring.

    If they had to run wires from one side of the stadium to the other, they probably would have used an outside contractor, so there would be a record of that. Also, even if the devices are no longer installed, it is quite rare to remove the wiring. They just snip the ends off and leave the wires in place, so there should be some physical evidence remaining today.

  36. cowboycjn says: Apr 25, 2012 3:31 PM

    So Polain makes an argument that it was useless, somebody counters this with possible value. WAIT a minute – Has anybody proved he did or did not use the so called alleged system to listen to anybody? NO!

    At this point it is only gossip because it is a alleged possibly it might have been done. So you smart people in here are saying lets hang the person then we will hold a trial to see if he’s guilty. What a bunch of freaks.

  37. bullcharger says: Apr 25, 2012 3:41 PM

    I don’t think this thing is true. However, if you assume it was true then I would also assume it wasn’t only used by Loomis and it wasn’t only used for in-game adjustments. It was recorded and reviewed and somewhere there would be analysis documents. Investgators should be looking for recordings and documents.

  38. moagecu says: Apr 25, 2012 3:42 PM

    Don’t you first have to establish he had the system in place before we jump to the second and third questions?
    _______

    I’m not sure, but wouldnt the fact that he had an ear piece to listen to AM radio mean that he could alter it to listen to other things?

  39. shzastl says: Apr 25, 2012 3:44 PM

    Chris Landry on Fox Radio said something similar. Even if Loomis couldn’t decipher specific plays, he could hear conversations among opposing coaches such as “we’re struggling with Play x” and share that with his coaches.

  40. wittersworld says: Apr 25, 2012 3:44 PM

    So according to Polian’s logic, its okay for me to break into my neighbor’s house, as long as I don’t take anything.

  41. rootintootinnootin says: Apr 25, 2012 3:51 PM

    If it was so useful, why did he only do it for a few years before stopping the practice?

    And, especially as technology only gets better, you would expect his capability to listen would only get better the longer he’d done it.

  42. chachanola says: Apr 25, 2012 3:51 PM

    I doubt this story is true for the fact that the author called around to anybody to try and find dirt…one. Two, alot of you using the source card ( which is truly tired and played out) should be more than a disgruntled Cox Cable man who didn’t get that illeagal side contract. What is happening is that so many people want to be first to pile something else on that now alot of people’s journalistic creadibility is going to be questioned. Wasn’t ESPN the ones who also ran with the Cancer Patient Superbowl Ticket story too? just saying

  43. thepftpaperchase says: Apr 25, 2012 4:07 PM

    sonvar: The Saints didn’t player the 2005 season (3-13) in the Superdome. That was after Katrina, so they played their home games in East Rutherford vs the Giants (1), Baton Rouge (4) and San Antonio (3).
    Mark0226: The coaches booths in the Superdome were both on the same side of the field (as are all or almost all stadium set-ups). In fact, there were only a few booths in between the two. I don’t know where you got the idea they’re on opposite sides of the stadium.

  44. denverscott says: Apr 25, 2012 4:14 PM

    If there was no possible advantage, why do coaches cover their mouths when calling plays? Also, with just listening to the chatter on the battlefield (gridiron) a commander (coach) can gain situational awareness and figure out the tendencies of the opposition.

  45. mark0226 says: Apr 25, 2012 7:13 PM

    My mistake on the location of the coaches booths. With coaches booths on the same side of the stadium, then it is likely to be a very simple switch in the Audio/Video room and all evidence would be gone after the Katrina renovations in 2005. If it did happen, the only likely evidence will be eye witness or hearsay from 7-10 years ago, which is not very reliable.

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