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.