You might have seen (or, more likely, given my readership, you might not have seen) that Bill Belichick, the head coach of the NFL's New England Patriots, was embroiled in a cheating controversy this week. During the Patriots' game with the New York Jets last Sunday, a Patriots assistant coach was caught videotaping Jets coaches making defensive signals. This is a violation of NFL rules, which limit the locations from which teams can videotape games: it is legal to tape games from the pressbox but illegal to tape from the sidelines, which is what the Patriots coach did. This is not an obscure rule, nor is it a matter of interpretation as to whether the Patriots violated it. As punishment for this incident, Belichick was fined $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000, and they will forfeit either their first round or their second and third round draft choices in 2008, depending on whether they make the playoffs this year.
There are a lot of Patriots apologists out there, both among the general public and in the sports punditariat, who say that this was a dumb rule and that violation of it really didn't upset the competitive balance in the game. They're all missing the point. The rule is explicit, and Belichick new very well that videotaping from the sideline was illegal. Nobody has presented any evidence that this kind of miscreance has been perpetrated by any other team. In fact, the reason for the league's warning in 2006 were repeated complaints that the Patriots were doing this. Not only that, but other complaints of systematic, intentional violations of the rules have been buzzing around the league for years. See Paul Zimmerman's Sports Illustrated column for more details. Bill Bellichick intentionally violated league rules that were meant to ensure a fair game, and he did it right in front of everybody's face. The man is a cheater, and he's arrogant. He deserved a much more severe punishment than he got, and he has solidified his position as the most offensive coach in the NFL today.