Unfortunately for many fans, the NFL, and the Patriots and the Seahawks, the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl has already been determined — the Patriots will lose one way or another.

No, this is not the equivalent of saying Seattle will win regardless of the score; the Patriots will simply lose. While the Patriots probably will not be found guilty in the NFL’s warped version of the rule of law, their guilt in the court of public opinion is growing with every awkward Tom Brady press conference or Bill Belichick attempt at a scientific explanation.

Deflate-gate — the so-called scandal, conspiracy or media-fueled time suck — arose after the Patriots massacred the Colts 45-7 nearly two Sundays ago in the AFC Championship Game. The Colts felt the footballs were underinflated and indeed, tests found that 11 of the 12 footballs used in the game were below the NFL’s minimum air pressure requirement.

Did the underinflated footballs affect the outcome of the game? No, not a chance. A team that loses by 38 points did not lose because of a pound of pressure per square inch. A team that loses by 38 points lost because it is a vastly inferior football team. The past three matchups between Andrew Luck and Tom Brady, especially the playoff games from the past two seasons, are continual reminders that the Colts are not a championship-caliber team and cannot compete with New England.

But alas, in the world of sports debate and conversation, facts only matter so much — perception, too, is important, and that is where the Patriots and the National Football League have a problem. At this point, no one, aside from Brady and probably Belichick, know if the footballs were purposely underinflated.

There is no physical evidence to prove their guilt. Nevertheless, the lack of factual and pertinent information allows fans and critics alike to fill in the blanks as to what happened. The prevailing idea is that the Patriots are guilty of something — and their season is tainted as a result.

If New England wins Sunday, the team will technically receive its fourth Lombardi Trophy as a franchise, Tom Brady will get his fourth ring and Brady and Belichick will further cement themselves as the greatest quarterback-coach duo of this generation, if not all time. I say “technically” because for many fans, this particular championship will have the legitimacy of a North Korean election. There would be a permanent asterisk by this season even if the NFL investigation into deflate-gate lets the Patriots off scot-free.

The NFL is between a rock and a hard place as to what it can or should do in the wake of this controversy. The Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman cites a conflict of interest between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft because Goodell attended a party hosted by Kraft and posed for pictures with the owner the night prior to the AFC Championship. Sherman saw the conflict of interest as the reason why no punishment will be imposed on the Patriots, but Sherman is wrong, at least to some extent. After all, Goodell was the commissioner when the NFL punished the Patriots back in 2008 for Spygate.

Other NFL critics are decrying the league’s reported choice not to interview Tom Brady about the incident until after the Super Bowl. On one hand, the NFL has valid reasons to deny such an interview. Deflate-gate would create even more of a distraction for the Patriots and take Brady’s focus away from the game, and the NFL has every incentive to protect its star players for the biggest television event in the world — after all, the Super Bowl alone provides the NFL with a ridiculous amount of money.

However, if the interview with Brady is delayed, and the NFL ultimately concludes that the Patriots are at fault for something and should be penalized, it will only make the NFL’s PR situation worse and further delegitimize the Patriots’ season. If justice delayed is justice denied, and the league’s investigation will not be finished for several more weeks, then the NFL is, once again, doing a fantastic job in obscuring truth and justice. That the lack of action benefits the Patriots, one of the teams America loves to hate, just adds fuel to an already out of control fire.

A Seattle victory would do its part to push deflate-gate to the back of our collective consciousness, at least until the league concludes its investigation. Controversy and second-guessing seem to be the new constants of the NFL, and with the offseason set to begin, it feels like it will only be a matter of time before the next incident will present itself.

Michael Ippolito is a sophomore in the College. THE WATER COOLER appears every Friday.

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