It should be stated plainly: This is not, at least in terms of competitive balance, a big deal. It’s like getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. But the popular uproar has been louder. At the heart of the sentiment against the Patriots—significant enough, by the way, that the league has retained the same investigative horsepower it deployed on the genuinely odious Miami Dolphins bullying scandal—is the notion that deflating the balls constituted some sort of more grievous sin against fair play.

Who could possibly believe this? Everyone lets a little air out of the pigskin, as former quarterback Matt Leinart has said. Deflated balls are easier to grip and catch; they give the offense an advantage, just like rub routes or hasty substitution patterns. No one could claim these evasions (equally deliberate, equally practiced) merit suspension. It’s gamesmanship, nothing more, and there ought to be an in-game penalty for it, if the referee susses out a slightly shriveled one.