Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Evil Greg Easterbrook Weighs In On Spygate Revelations

The formerly entertaining, now truly loathsome Greg Easterbrook weighs in that Bill Belickick should be suspended, for at least a year, because really, even a year's suspension would be getting off too easy.

I know, I know, I promised I was done with Spygate, but I'm not the one who can't let it go. What we have left is a battle for New England's reputation and place in history. The NFL's position seems to be in favor of New England, critical of what the Patriots did, but none too concerned about the final product on the field. But some in the media just can't let it go, determined to find conspiracies lurking in every corner.

And yes, I do say conspiracies, because accusing the NFL and Roger Goodell of covering up the truth would a conspiracy make. The truth is much, much closer to what I've been saying for the past few weeks. There's nothing left to say because of all the ambiguities involved. Evidence clearly shows that the Patriots gleamed no major advantage from the taping- at least none that's anywhere noticeable in the statistical record of games that could have been played using taped signals versus games that couldn't have been played using taped signals. What we're left with is a few plays here and a few plays there. Yes, plays that may have made a difference in a game's outcome, but there's be no way to ever determine what those plays actually were.

Certainly the NFL is best served by putting this all in the past. I'm sure the NFL would rather not have to deal with ESPN's 8 part speculative series on the plays and the games where the Patriots could have benefited from their illegally taped signals. And you could do it too, just through the study of old game films. But the point is that it's all speculation and there's no "truths" to be learned about what games were actually impacted (if any) because of the taping.

Easterbrook raises the old canard, "why bother taping if it wasn't giving them a competitive advantage?" I'd refer the court to exhibit A, the 2002 tape handed over by Matt Walsh of a week 4 games between the Patriots and Chargers. The Patriots would not play the Chargers for another three years- If you're at all curious, the Patriots lost both games. Certainly the coaching staff hoped the taping would provide some advantages, but clearly the program was large in scope.

As I've said before, I'm willing to concede plenty to the critics. The program probably did include tapes of every game and the Patriots certainly benefited from it. There's just a difference between seeking to gain a competitive advantage and a scandal that literally throws the final product on the field into question.

Easterbrook further weakens his case by pointing to the Patriots close margins of victory in the Super Bowl. While they beat the Rams in 2001 after a loss to them in the regular season, they didn't play the Eagles or Panthers in the same season that they played them in the Super Bowl. Prior to playing the Panthers in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2003 season, the Patriots had not played them since the end of 2001. And prior to playing the Eagles at the end of 2004, the Patriots had not played them since the second game of 2003. Again, there are certain games where questions could be raised- but there are others where there is no possible way the Patriots could have any tapes of stolen signals.

Another "fact" brought up by Easterbrook- the claim that a former quarterback told Walsh that the tapes allowed the Patriots to know the opposing defense 75% of the time. In a court of law, such a statement would be considered hearsay and wouldn't be admissible. But even going with the statement as true, it would just tell us that knowing an opponents defense 75% of the time isn't that big of deal. Either knowing isn't all that helpful or teams tend to know these things a significant amount of the time anyway.

If that 75% meant something, then you'd see the differences in outcomes and differences in statistics that I mentioned before. If it makes that a big a deal, then there's no way that the Patriots offensive numbers would look so similar over such a large sample of games that could have been played with tapes versus games that couldn't have been.

What we do have is Belichick probably lying and Belichick almost certainly being a prick. Belichick lied, but that seems to me that it should be more between him and Goodell than anyone else. And I was under the impression that the fines and the draft pick penalty were just as much for Belichick's dishonesty and defiance about the whole incident as much as they were about the incident itself.

Easterbrook wants blood in the form of a Belichick suspension, perhaps even a lifetime ban, mostly because of Belichick's lack of remorse. To this I have to say, why the hell does he need to show remorse. I don't recall him showing remorse over breaking league injury report rules- nor can I remember Mike Shanahan showing remorse for that same offense. This is just the competitive nature of the game where sometimes rules are broken in the name of obtaining even the slimmest of edges. And a life time ban? Seriously? The only way you could possibly argue for such a thing is if you believed that this was so super serious, despite the evidence to the contrary.

My final take on the whole story is this- and I can't believe I've never thought of this before. If you're, I don't know, say, Jon Gruden, are you going to be more upset about that the Patriots might have broken the rules to steal some signals that maybe effected the outcomes of a few plays or are you going to be more upset about the instant replay tuck rule reversal?


Blogger McMc said...

Much like Belichick "misinterpretted" the rules, you misinterpret a lot of points made by Easterbrook and most others.

First of all, when Easterbrook talked about the Super Bowls, he wasn't implying they cheated to win. Here's the exerpt:

"It is unfair to the Patriots to say, as some of the sportstalk world is now saying, their Super Bowl run was the result of their cheating. No one who knows football doubts that most of the success New England has achieved in the past eight seasons was earned on the field, by the performance of the players. In some weeks this season, the Patriots were performing so phenomenally well that if all the coaches had left the building at the start of the second quarter, the players would have won the game anyway.

But many NFL contests turn on as little as a few snaps. If cheating allowed the Patriots to come out ahead on a couple of more snaps per game than they otherwise would have, that could shift outcomes in their favor. All four New England Super Bowl appearances of this decade have been decided by three points. Change one or two plays in Arizona this February, and Belichick joins Chuck Noll at 4-0 in the ultimate game; change one or two plays in each of his previous appearances, and Belichick joins Bud Grant and Marv Levy at 0-4."

As you can see, he was merely trying to make the point that football is a game of inches, and that if a few snaps can change a game, then knowing defensive plays would certainly be a big advantage.

Also, think about cheating logically. A few things I've been meaning to bring up is the fact that you can't merely look at a team and look at those outcomes. Why? Because coaches and coordinators change. Teams don't use uniform signals year in and year out, but the coaches who come and go likely use their own signals. You also can't just look at the final score. One thing that is happening right now at my job is a very deep statistical analysis of the Pats in repeat performances against coaches and coordinators.

One thing I'm intrigued to see is the 4th quarter, because another thing we've been ignoring is the practical use of stolen signals. It's quite possible the Pats know upward of 75% of the plays other teams will call, but why would you use them early on and possibly lose your advantage? Wouldn't you save that knowledge for bigger spots and use the early parts of the game as a test to see if the signals were right?

And it's more of a conspiracy that Goodell destroyed tapes than thinking the Pats gained a big advantage. You hide behind ambiguities and claim there's no way of finding out the truth but that's crap. Again, if the NFL really thought the Pats gained little to no advantage, they would do more than just say so. The numbers are there, the players are there, the coaches are there....you just have to look/ask/demand answers. But no, Goodell would rather destroy the tapes and be done with it because he doesn't want a black eye on the most successful franchise of the decade. I say bullshit to that.

Finally, the thing that started this post, a suspension of Belichick. I agree that there should be additional punishment on the Pats and Belichick, but a year is pretty steep without further knowing the advantages gained. Still, if we're going to suspend players for taking steroids (another infraction with ambiguous results), then you have to suspend a coach for cheating too.

3:54 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

The statistical analysis is well worth while and is exactly the sort of thing I've been talking about.

What if what I'm suggesting is correct, and after all this, they can't find any real statistical evidence of the cheating? At that point can the world accept as true the notion that the taping provided some benefits, but nothing near the level that would raise questions as to the integrity of the game?

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with mcmc and Easterbrook on this one. Pointing out how unlikely it is that Belichick would so systematically and consistently tape opponents for no advantage is no "canard," as you call it--it simply assumes that Belichick is rational and behaves purposively. It makes no sense--no sense whatsoever--to tape games and signals for eight years and to splice them together with game film unless the Pats at least thought they were gaining some sort of advantage. That's not a tired argument--it's economics. For me, the issue hinges on that alone.

And as far as the calls for suspension go, I don't think they're even slightly overboard. Odell Thurman was suspended for two seasons--a career-ending suspension--and what he did had absolutely no effect on the game whatsoever. Who has done more to tarnish the game's image--Thurman or Belichick? Who did more to undermine the legitimacy of on-field competition--Thurman or Belichick?

The whole discussion is, additionally, often rendered meaningless because people can't keep deontological moral commitments and utilitarian commitments straight. The question of "real" advantage is completely moot if you're talking about cheating. Cheating is about rules and duties and is therefore not subject to debates about utility--whether cheaters prosper or not, they're still cheaters.

6:31 PM  

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