Here's The Rule That Lets The NFL Punish The Patriots However It Wants

Bill BelichickJim Rogash/Getty ImagesBill Belichick could be suspended by the NFL.

Of the 12 balls used by the New England Patriots during their big win in the AFC title game over the Indianapolis Colts, 11 were underinflated, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The next step for the NFL is to try and determine whether the balls were intentionally deflated after being inspected by the game officials and what, if any, punishment the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick should receive.

If the NFL does decide punishment is needed, the league can do pretty much whatever it wants to the Patriots, according to the NFL Rule Book.

If the Patriots did indeed intentionally deflate the footballs, “Deflategate” could fall under the category of “Unfair Acts,” which is defined by the NFL Rule Book as “any club action, nonparticipant interference, or emergency [that] occurs in an NFL game which [the commissioner] deems so unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of a game.”

The penalties for Unfair Acts appear to be unlimited and range from a minimum of fines, suspensions, and lost draft picks, all the way to giving commissioner Roger Goodell the power to replay the game or even rule it a forfeit.

“The Commissioner’s powers under this section (UNFAIR ACTS) include the imposition of monetary fines and draft choice forfeitures, suspension of persons involved, and, if appropriate, the reversal of a game’s result or the rescheduling of a game, either from the beginning or from the point at which the extraordinary act occurred.”

It seems impossible that the commissioner would hand down the harshest possible punishment. Not only is it a logistical nightmare for him to replay the game or rule it a forfeit, he’d need evidence that the Patriots using deflated balls had “a major effect on the result of a game” that ended 45-7.

But if the Patriots are found guilty, and considering their history of skirting NFL rules, it is easy to imagine the team losing multiple draft picks as well as a suspension for Bill Belichick, even if that means he has to sit out the Super Bowl itself.

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