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Deflategate: Much more on the line than a four-game suspension

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While the main focus of Deflategate coverage has been Brady's suspension and Goodell's arbitrariness, there is another angle to this story that has been largely overlooked-- bribery.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Discussions of ball deflation and Brady's lack of cooperation have dominated coverage of Deflategate, providing a distraction from a much more serious threat to Roger Goodell and, more broadly, the NFL.

Patriots QB Tom Brady's appeal is scheduled for June 23, and Roger Goodell is slated to be the neutral arbitrator who will decide whether or not to uphold the four-game suspension the league handed down for Brady's alleged involvement in deflating game-day footballs in order to gain competitive advantage.

With time, we will have answers to the questions that have been swirling around for months:

How many games will Brady miss?

How will fans and the rest of the league react to Goodell's decision?

If Brady is dissatisfied with the outcome, will he take the case to court?

And, if he does go to court, will that end up undermining the Commissioner's power?

There is one huge question that renders insignificant the questions missed games, fan reactions and has implications well beyond Goodell's power, Kraft's air of entitlement, and Brady's lack of cooperation. The main focus of Deflategate has been the actual deflation of the footballs, and the pieces of evidence in the news most recently are scientific calculations regarding the pressure of the footballs. Meanwhile, lurking-- not so subtly-- in the Wells report is a much more serious and insidious charge: bribery.

It is in violation US criminal code- 18 US Code Section 224, which deals specifically with bribery in sporting contests-- to effect, attempt to carry into effect, or conspire with any other person to carry into effect "any scheme in commerce to influence, in any way, by bribery any sporting contest with the knowledge that the purpose of that scheme is to influence by bribery that contest." Even an attempt to influence the game falls under this code, which renders the actual ball pressure and degree of competitive advantage irrelevant.

According to the US Code, it doesn't matter if the team would have won anyway, and it doesn't matter if  the balls were actually deflated by human hand. There is no differentiation between executing a scheme and making an unsuccessful attempt. Simply put, if there was an organized effort-- even one without outcome-- to pay the equipment managers to break the rules, that is a criminal violation and an instance of corruption.

Text messages exchanged between Jim McNally and John Jastremski mention the receipt of gifts and swag in exchange for their efforts to manipulate the air pressure of the footballs to suit Brady. The Wells report contains the texts between the two men.

McNally wrote, "Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks... or its a rugby Sunday."  Jastremski responded, "Maybe u will have some nice size 11s in ur locker."  Later in the year, McNally again referenced favors from Tom Brady: "Tell tom i need a courtside... Im sure tom put my fresh new uggs in my locker."  Jastremski also received the ball Tom Brady threw when he passed 50,000 career passing yards. He wrote to his mother, "I took the ball when it happened and had him sign it... looks awesome..."  To his sister, he wrote, "Funny... go to patriots.com. They have an article about the 50,000 yard ball... if only they knew. :-)"

While Brady has not turned over his own records, he did text Jastremski after the AFC Championship game and ask him to come to the "qb room" in January after the infamous Colts game when the issue of deflated footballs first came to light. According to Jastremski, Brady asked him about prepping the Super Bowl footballs the same way he did during the AFC Championship game because he "loved" them.

It will be hard for Roger Goodell to ignore organized attempts to violate game rules during the sporting contest itself. Goodell and the NFL could appear complicit in the scandal merely by failing to protect the league from such efforts to establish a competitive advantage and actions that compromise on-field play. Would he want to open himself up to an investigation by the FBI, U.S. Attorney's office, or the FTC?

An unchecked bribery scheme within the NFL would compromise the integrity of the league on a much more serious level than other recent, flashier scandals and call into question its very legitimacy. The correspondence cited in the Wells report seems to indicate that there was indeed a scheme to influence the outcome of the sporting contest via incentives of value. Since NFL games are marketed and presented as bona fide sporting contests, the possibility of bribery is a very serious problem. Viewers, players, and other stakeholders should be able to trust that the games are played in good faith and without deception or fraud.

In order for Goodell to protect himself and the league, he will need to demonstrate that he took corrective measures to preserve the integrity of the NFL after he became aware of orchestrated attempts to influence the game. Otherwise, the scandal could spread beyond the Patriots. Preserving the integrity of the game and protecting the NFL from being implicated in wider corruption is Goodell's main responsibility. If the NFL appears to ignore attempts to influence the sporting contest on the field, it will lose credibility with its fans and advertisers. As a businessman, Goodell should be concerned about this possibility.

There is a lot riding on Monday's appeal. Brady's lack of cooperation and his knowledge of the deflation are not the main threats to the league, or the most serious allegations. The threat lies in a potential attempt to influence the outcome of the game through bribery.

The potential impact of such threats is the diminution of the game's integrity-- an eventuality that puts the NFL one step closer to the WWE, a show instead of a game.