Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Patriots 'cheating'

Ok, so many of my friends will think that I am probably going to go off here about the Patriots' camera incident last weekend, but I frankly don't think its a big deal. I mean, coaching signals are coded for a reason, we worried about it in high school! Second of all, a certain amount of gamesmanship is expected in football, especially at the highest level. Finally, their has been a certain elevated hysteria in the discussion about this video taping of the Jets' signals, including most headlines with "spying" in them. As noted by King Kaufman from Salon:
What the Pats are accused of doing is "spying" on the Jets coaches as they sent signals to the defense. My understanding of spying must be different from the NFL's. Watching a guy flapping his arms while standing in the middle of 70,000 people and in front of a national TV audience doesn't qualify. Even if you point a camera at him.
I agree. The original offense on the face of it seems not that big a deal.

I also question whether it would work. I already assume that all teams change their coding every game, and simple protective systems rotating every series should defend against even videotaping. They could have a two-signaller system. You have two coaches doing slightly different signals, but each series only one coach is giving the real signal (which the defensive captains already know), while the other sends in a similar dummy. Then in the second half, you use different coding, and still use the same two-signaller system. All the work done cracking the first-half code is useless. Shouldn't teams be using this anyway?

On the other hand, the Pats stand accused of specifically being warned about this offense. Check out what has to say:
Patriots under investigation for following rules, guidelines violations ...
1. Page 105 of the Game Operations manual says: "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." It later says: "All video shooting locations must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."

2. And, a memo from Ray Anderson, NFL head of football operations, to head coaches and GMs on Sept. 6, 2006 said: "Video taping 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."
There aren't really any two ways about that (by bolding). While I don't think their was any major effect of the taping, including even in the Jets game (I expect Tom Brady and Randy Moss will continue to torch opponents all season long; and as noted above, there are easy measures which seem to me like they could frustrate reading defensive signals), it is a rather blatant violation. The Sports Guy has a discussion with Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders with a long bit of Patriot fan self-loathing, that I think even goes over the top a bit, but this bit struck me as true:
Here's the thing that shocks me: I always thought Belichick cared too much about his legacy to risk tainting it like this. He's a history buff and someone who allowed Halberstam to follow him around simply because he understood the intrinsic value of a great writer capturing his 'brilliance' in a widely read book. The whole thing is just bizarre.
Why oh why did the Pats do it? Especially since it seems to me particularly easy to defend against (just rotate between dummies rapidly and irregularly; or worst comes to worst, simply sending in the play call with a player). And they had already been warned? As Schatz put it:
What on Earth was Belichick thinking? The team had been warned by the league multiple times. They were playing the Jets -- did they think Eric Mangini had suddenly forgotten everything the Patriots had done when he was their defensive coordinator? Could you guys be a little more obvious with your cheating?
The crime seems irrelevant, and barely qualifies as cheating to me. The very act of trying to crack another team's signals is still considered sacred; nobody is disputing a team's right to have five guys staring at the other coaches writing down all their signals on a clipboard. Video might make it more effective and faster, but it is only a matter of one level of magnitude, and still the same act (cracking the other team's signals). So really it comes down to breaking the limits on rules, which seems hardly less ethical, just stupid. Petty, minor, irrelevant, stupid. But everyone is getting way to worked up about it I think.