The report is in on "Deflategate," but the jury is still out.
It shouldn't be for long.
Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to suspend Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and discipline coach Bill Belichick -- and, yes, I realize that Belichick was supposedly exonerated by the Wells report on the deflated footballs used in the AFC title game.
Spare me. There is no plausible scenario in which Brady did not know that the footballs were being deflated for his benefit. For that matter, it's difficult to believe that Belichick didn't have some idea of what was going on.
He's Bill Belichick, one of the NFL's great control freaks, but he couldn't see the fantastic statistical anomaly that was his team's fumble stats the past five years?
The NFL suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a full season because he supposedly didn't know that his team had a bounty system .. .and should have. Belichick, who already has a record of stretching the rules, can't suddenly be treated like he's Mr. Magoo.
The Patriot apologists are already trying to make the case that "Bountygate" was worse than "Deflategate," but equivalency is not the issue here. The likelihood that the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs for Tom Brady and used that advantage to get through the AFC playoffs actually calls into question the integrity of the sport more than the bounty scandal. Especially with the Patriots' already checkered history.
It also creates a difficult situation for Goodell because of the perception that he is very close to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. If Goodell slaps the Patriots on the wrist, it's going to confirm for a lot of fans in other cities -- including Baltimore -- that the franchise gets preferential treatment from the NFL's central office.
Kraft has already said publicly that the report does not provide hard evidence to prove that the Patriots did anything wrong and expressing disappointment that the league and the public didn't take his word for it.
Maybe there isn't a smoking gun, but there is plenty of smoke and the NFL is not required to employ a constitutional standard of proof to take disciplinary action against a misbehaving player.
If ever there was a moment for the "Goodell Doctrine" to be in effect, this is it. Goodell needs to show the world that the NFL does believe that cheating -- even when it just involves deflating some footballs below league standards -- is not tolerable even when it almost certainly involves one of the league's most marketable players.
Some have speculated that Brady could be suspended for the entire 2016 season. That's not likely and might be excessive, but a four-game suspension to start the season would send a message that NFL rules apply to everyone in the NFL.