by Clark Groome

What has the world come to when “Deflategate” becomes the central focus of the sports pages and the various iterations of national TV newscasts?

Deflategate is the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots’ use of under-inflated footballs in their 45-7 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game Jan. 18.

NFL rules state that a ball has to be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (PSI). Each team brings 12 balls to the game, balls that are checked by the referee and then given to the ball boys who roam the sidelines to keep fresh footballs in play. Footballs are used by the team that supplied them.

This is an issue because footballs that are under-inflated are easier to handle, throw and catch. The biggest beneficiary of ball tampering is the quarterback who, almost all players and enlightened observers say, has to know whether or not the ball he’s using is properly inflated.

This issue is complicated because the Patriots, under their brilliant but snarly coach Bill Belichick, have been caught cheating before.

If the NFL finds that the Patriots broke the rules the team will likely be punished. Just how is unclear since it’s almost certain that neither the league nor NBC would want to see Super Bowl XLIX played without the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The punishment is likely to be a fine, the loss of a draft pick and/or suspensions next season.

Let’s assume for now that the rules were broken and that the Patriots had an advantage (although the Colts acknowledge that they would have lost regardless of the projectile the home team was using). How in the future can you avoid this kind of idiocy?

Three possibilities, none requiring rocket science to implement. The first: Change the rules so that the quarterback can, within reason, decide what inflation is most comfortable for him. Maybe the PSI dictates can change from 12.5-13.5 PSI to 11-13.5 PSI, or something like that.

This would not be unique to football.

Hockey players can decide, within limits, both the length of their sticks and the amount of curve on the blade. Baseball pitchers can ask the umpire for a different baseball if he doesn’t like the one he’s given.

Another possibility would be to have the two teams use the other team’s footballs.

The Final option is to have the league be responsible for the footballs used in games, especially in the post-season. Easy to do, and wouldn’t require or raise any issues about the credibility of the footballs in play.

Whatever is done in the future, the best result will be the removal of Deflategate from the evening newscasts and the late-night comedy shows where it has been the source of some significantly bawdy and often hilarious humor.

On another matter: When the NCAA issued sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, convicted of multiple acts of sexual abuse against boys, part of its action included overturning 112 Penn State wins between 1998 and 2011. The facts of the story are well known.

What isn’t as well known is that the NCAA had no jurisdiction over either this punishment or on the inflicting of a $60 million fine. It was within its rights to remove the program from bowl contention and reduce the number of scholarships available, both of which actions it also took.

Threatened by a lawsuit, the NCAA and its president, Mike Emmert, reversed themselves and reinstated the 112 wins. That was something many people (including this reporter in the August 2, 2012, Local) called for.

It is good to see those 112 victories restored, since the kids who won those games had nothing to do with Sandusky’s behavior or with coach Joe Paterno’s puzzling lack of attention to a problem he knew about for more than a decade.

Finally, one of the all-time great sports figures, the Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks, also known as “Mr. Cub,” died Jan. 23. He was 83. His cheery demeanor made him one of the most popular players in baseball history. What came shining through – most notably in his famous daily comment, “It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two” – was his love of his sport. Baseball, and sports in general, loved him back.