In Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season, the New England Patriots were accused of video taping the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline. Reminiscent of their 2007 ‘Spygate’ troubles, there was a fair deal of uncertainty surrounding the situation. While some details are yet to emerge, the NFL are deciding on the next course of action.
As part of a video series called, “Do Your Job,” the New England Patriots were filming content about the role of an Advanced Scout. An Advanced Scout was attending the Cincinnati Bengals’ game against the Cleveland Browns, in preparation for the Week 15 meeting between the Bengals and Patriots. Scouts often attend games of upcoming opponents and make notes, although filming and taking photos is banned by the NFL.
The Patriots had hired an external film crew, and sought permission from the Cleveland Browns, who agreed. However, when the Bengals became aware that they were being filmed, they contacted league officials at the stadium. The video contents were seized, which included approximately 8 minutes of video footage of the Bengals’ sideline activity. This sideline activity included signals used during the game. The tape is still in possession of the NFL.
The 2007 ‘Spygate’ Issue
After the story broke, there was automatic concern that the New England Patriots were again in breach of league rules, as they were in 2007. During a game against the New York Jets in 2007, the Patriots were caught filming the Jets from their own sideline. This was considered a violation of league rules. Areas of the stadium can be used for filming, but not the sideline. It is also not permitted to be used within the same game. Current rules still exist, including using cell phones on sidelines.
During the 2007 investigation, it was uncovered that the Patriots had potentially been doing similar actions since Head Coach Bill Belichick took over the team in 2000. Among the excuses the Patriots were prepared to provide in 2007, was that they were recording for promotional and content use. This is what they were doing this time. Belichick was fined the maximum penalty of $500 000, the team $250 000, and they also lost their first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Among the first reactions was from the Bengals, who were critical of the Patriots’ actions. The Browns confirmed that they had given permission as the stadium owners, and the NFL started an investigation. There was also mixed reactions from NFL fans- skepticism, and disbelief. A lot of people asked two key questions, “Why would the Patriots do this again?” and, “Why videotape the 1-13 Bengals?” Many analysts pointed out that if all the Patriots were recording was signals, this wasn’t a severe issue. Teams mostly communicate through the helmet microphones, and signals are used minimally, often changing from week to week.
The Patriots response was mixed. While Belichick immediately distanced himself from the events, claiming no knowledge of it, the franchise itself issued a separate statement. They agreed to work with the NFL and did not deny the charges. They are yet to offer a satisfactory explanation of why so much content of the Bengals’ sideline was filmed. The film crew claimed that they were unaware of rules saying they couldn’t film the sideline. However, this is a little odd, as you would expect that the Patriots would take no risks in this regard, especially given what happened last time.
It’s likely that the Patriots are given a punishment in the coming weeks, regardless of the motivations for filming or what they were going to do with the tape. This will likely range from fines to a draft pick, and possibly both. As it is less severe than last time, a draft pick might be the fourth or fifth round instead. But it could be as high as a first, given New England’s track record.
If everything is as it appears and it was an innocent mistake, a fine will be all that is given and we can move on. If, however, it was intentional and more malicious, the punishment will not only be severe, but the repercussions go further. Is there another investigation into the Patriots and video taping? Does it taint Belichick’s legacy? While it seems unlikely they were trying to cheat again, it is possible. Until the NFL hands down a ruling, the stance is innocent until proven guilty.