The NFL has learned the hard way that improperly handling investigations regarding off-field issues can create major problems. As a result, the NFL fully intends to properly handle investigations regarding on-field issues that impact the integrity of the game.
As to the question of whether balls were deflated by the Patriots before or during Sunday’s AFC title game against the Colts, the issue goes much deeper than the contents of the rulebook or the question of whether the Patriots would have won the game with over-inflated balls, under-inflated balls, completely deflated balls, or bowling balls. The issue speaks to the question of whether the integrity of the game has been undermined.
Per a league source, the Patriots officially have been informed of the investigation, and the investigation will be thorough and transparent. Consequences, if any, will come in the offseason, with a full explanation from the NFL as to what happened and why punishment was (or wasn’t) imposed.
In this specific case, the investigation will focus on whether the balls were properly weighed and measured by officials before the game started, whether anything happened while the balls were in the custody of the referee, and whether anything happened after the balls were given by the referee to the ball attendant.
The ball attendant becomes a key figure in any investigation regarding ball inflation because the ball attendant is an employee not of the league but of the team.
It’s not the only pending investigation that falls into the “integrity of the game” file. The ongoing investigation regarding the reported use of cellphones on the sidelines by Browns coaches also has attracted special attention from the league office.
In addition to rectifying any potential impact on game integrity, the NFL also will hope to deter others from committing similar violations in the future. Which means that the punishments, if any, will be aimed in part at sending a message to anyone else who would be inclined to do anything to get an unfair edge.