Belichick Must Pay

When I heard about the outrageous cheating committed by the Patriots this past Sunday, my initial reaction was to call for the league to hit New England where it hurts most: the NFL draft.

Draft picks are the lifeblood of any successful NFL franchise. You can't build a competitive team through free agency (as the Washington Redskins continue to prove). The Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles draft well each year and continue to win.

Robbing the Patriots of their entire allotment of picks in next April's draft would have sent a harsh message – cheating will not be tolerated. But it's too harsh. It hurts the entire team – the coaches, players and front office personnel – and the entire team wasn't responsible for what happened on New York's sideline on Sunday. One man was.

Bill Belichick.

Belichick should be the one to pay the ultimate price for this transgression. He's clearly the ringleader. It's absurd to speculate that any assistant coach conspired with his co-workers to pull this off. New England's head coach obviously signed off on the deal to steal New York's signals, and as the man in charge, he should be the one to pay.

The NFL should suspend Belichick for the remainder of the 2007 season, without pay. He should be barred from participating with the team in any football-related matter, and all communication concerning coaching matters should be cut off.

This heavily penalizes Belichick while taking an appropriate toll on his team. Who knows what advantages they gained against the Jets with Randy Moss running through New York's pilfered coverages. Without their head coach, the Patriots will be robbed of their leader and key strategist for a suitable time.

It's unfair to take away draft picks. It robs New England's players of the tools to get the job done on the field next year, and in future years. You might say taking away only a couple of picks would be punishment enough, but it's not, especially for a team that's as well-built in the present and drafts as well as the Patriots do.

This isn't just about the Patriots, either. There are probably similar cases of undiscovered cheating going on around the league every weekend. We'd be naive fools to think otherwise.

Cutting off New England's head (Belichick) will make everyone stand up and take notice.

It was important for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to do the right thing with Michael Vick, regardless of his status as a big-name quarterback. He sent a clear message to every NFL player when he suspended Vick indefinitely – behavior that reflects badly on the league will not be tolerated.

If Goodell doesn't take the same stance with Belichick, he risks alienating hundreds of players league wide. Let Belichick off scott free, and it looks like players are accountable, but coaches aren't.

Here's the really disgusting part of this – Belichick isn't apologetic in the least. In an official statement released on New England's website, he referred to the blatant stealing of New York's defensive signals as "a videotaping procedure" and "my interpretation of the rules." That's like Pacman Jones describing his illicit nightclub-related activities as "relaxation procedures" and "my interpretation of what I can get away with."

For Goodell's sake, I hope the penalty that comes down from the league offices doesn't scream "double standard." It'd be a shame, especially after the league took appropriate action with former Vikings head coach Mike Tice during his ticket-scalping scandal. Just because Belichick has won a few Super Bowls is no reason to treat him differently.

In fact, Belichick's success only gives the league more reason to step in. Patriots owner Robert Kraft isn't going to do anything, so someone who doesn't have an emotional and financial investment in Belichick must.

I think it's time for a "punishment procedure."


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