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Why Steelers fans should care about the Deflategate saga

Deflategate is not just an issue about one person and one team, it has league-wide implications.

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Deflategate has received a lot of coverage in the media since news broke of the scandal in January. It is easy to view the scandal as a self-contained issue between Tom Brady and the league, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Here are six reasons Steelers fans should care about Deflategate.

1) The Steelers first game is against the Patriots.

On September 10 the Steelers and Patriots face off in the first game of the season. The current suspension has Brady missing the first four weeks, which would mean the Steelers are playing a team with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm instead of a four-time Super Bowl champion, 10-time Pro-Bowler, and two-time league MVP.  The quarterback situation is important, especially with Garoppolo performing so poorly earlier in the offseason that there was speculation Garrett Gilbert would end up being their number two guy.

2) The Patriots are AFC rivals.

The Patriots are a perennial threat in the AFC, and that fact alone makes the Deflategate scandal relevant to Steelers fans. With four Super Bowl victories and six AFC championship titles since 2001, the Patriots could be a team that stands between the Steelers and a ticket to the Super Bowl.

3) The Deflategate matter is unresolved.

Over six months after the initial incident, there is still no resolution to this scandal. Not much new news about the actual deflation of the balls has come to light recently, but the mere fact that this issue has dragged out for so long is newsworthy and also indicative of systemic problems within the league. Brady has had his appeal. On the other hand, driving-while-high Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell is still waiting.

4) NFL punishments for personal conduct matters are arbitrary.

Personal conduct infractions are inevitable. Players on all thirty-two teams commit crimes, engage in stupid antics, and find themselves on the receiving end of NFL discipline. Roger Goodell and the NFL do not have a strong track record when it comes to consistency. Most recently, Greg Hardy's 10-game suspension for a domestic violence incident was reduced to just four games. Last year, Ravens RB Ray Rice received an indefinite suspension, which was later reversed. While consequences for PEDs and recreational drug use are codified and standardized, punishments for "conduct detrimental" infractions are left to the discretion of the NFL. Overly harsh punishments and lax punishments alike are detrimental to the league, opening up the possibility of impressions of favoritism, arbitrariness, or vindictiveness. It benefits all of the teams for there to be more standardization when it comes to these types of infractions.

5) Without integrity, the league is a farce.

Did Brady bribe equipment managers to tamper with the game-day balls? Did he merely have knowledge of it? Is cheating the Patriots way? The NFL is not the WWE. It is predicated on fairness and legitimacy. Tampering with equipment to gain an advantage has implications beyond Brady's suspension. Can fans and other stakeholders trust that their favorite game is actually a sporting event and not just entertainment? Attempts at cheating or actual cheating undermine the integrity of the game. Is America's favorite passtime rife with cheating? If the answer is yes, or if the infraction goes unpunished, fans can no longer assume they are watching a legitimate sporting contest instead of scripted entertainment.

6) Power distribution in the NFL has room for improvement.

Remember when James Harrison used to be fined for illegal hits during the game? It seemed really unfair, and it also seemed as though Roger Goodell had an ax to grind with #92. Under the new CBA, Goodell no longer determines consequences for on-field infractions, yet he still wields tremendous authority when it comes to "conduct detrimental" punishments. The outcome of Deflategate could begin to shift the locus of power away from Goodell and the front office.

Beyond the immediate issue of the Patriots staring quarterback for week one, Deflategate has far-reaching implications for the league. Does Goodell have too much power? Is the NFL really a legitimate sporting event, or is it heading towards the level of WWE entertainment?

Goodell and the NFL have already made a mess of Deflategate, and it is likely whatever decision comes out this week will not provide a final remedy for the problem. On a larger scale, it is becoming increasingly clear that Goodell is incapable of handling disciplinary problems. The league needs a fair and consistent system in place for matters related to discipline and enforcement of the rules. The resolution of Deflategate, in addition to providing clarity about on-field personnel issues for September 10, could result in a fairer, more consistent framework for disciplining players and teams.