This is truly one of the most bizarre incidents I've seen in my 50-something years of following professional sports. In my opinion, the NFL and Roger Goodell have bungled this whole affair, and I think Goodell should be, and will eventually be fired.
First of all, the league has precedent for dealing with "ball-doctoring" incidents. The San Diego Chargers were caught applying a "sticky substance" to the ball during a regular-season game and were fined $25K. The Minnesota Vikings were caught heating footballs on the sidelines on a cold day, and were levied a similar fine. They could have just fined the Patriots and been done with the whole incident. Instead, first the NFL office leaks information suggesting that several of the Patriots footballs were significantly underinflated, that they were between 10 and 10.5 PSI, and denying the possibility that the ideal gas law could account for the change. What's more, this information, which is later found to be inaccurate, is revealed during the media circus preceding the Super Bowl, their marquee event.
Subsequently, the league commissions an "independent" investigation, which seems have only one goal: confirm the narrative the league has already written. The league admits, in the Wells Report, that the New England footballs, tested at halftime, were below the legal limit, but were not far enough below the legal minimum to discount the effect of the ideal gas law. Also, they admit that two different gauges were used to test the footballs, and they yielded inconsistent results. Additionally, during half-time, they tested all New England balls, but only four of the Indianapolis balls, because they ran out of time? Of course, at this point, none of this mattered, the mob had already gathered, pitchforks and torches in hand.
After a costly and time-consuming investigation Goodell has Troy Vincent determine the punishment? A million dollar fine, first-round draft pick, fourth-round draft, four-game suspension, the harshest penalty since the New Orleans Saints "Bountygate", and the commissioner lets one of his lieutenants handle the punishment? I have serious doubts as to whether Goodell had no input into the decision. I believe this was only done so that when the inevitable appeal was filed Goodell could appoint himself arbiter (I know that the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do this anyway) and avoid recusing himself; after all, he can now say he didn't determine the punishment.
So why did Goodell handle it this way; why did he make an incident that should have been footnote, into a scandal? Did the other owners feel that he was too close to Robert Kraft, so that he felt the need to prove he's "his own man"? After bungling the Ray Rice incident, did he feel the need to over-punish? After delivering harsh punishment to several black stars (Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Vilma, Greg Hardy, and, eventually Rice) and seemingly going easy on some white stars (Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre) did he need to punish a white star too?
The Patriots have been arrogant at times, have pushed the limits at times, and have also won far too much for some people's tastes. But the same perception applied to the Cowboys in the 90's and the Forty-niners in the 80's. Everybody loves a winner, so long as it's their team. I'm sure some of the other NFL owners and a lot of fans of other teams are happy to see the Patriots and Kraft get spanked, but after mismanaging this, and several other issues, when your team's time comes, or when it's your star player involved, do you feel like Goodell is right the person to handle it? If I were an NFL owner I would be asking that question.
I have no doubt that Brady let it be known to the equipment managers that he liked the ball as soft as possible. Supposedly, the balls used in their game against the Jets were over-inflated, and Brady made them aware of his displeasure. This seems to be the genesis of one of the text exchanges between the two equipment managers. I really doubt though that he did any more than that.
I guess I also have to laugh about the whole thing because the league allows the teams to take the game balls and "condition" them to their liking anyway. If the ball was that sacrosanct why wouldn't the officials have constant control over them?