NFL punishes Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns for rules violations

March 30, 2015

The NFL has lost a lot of credibility in recent seasons with the growing public perception that it had, but chose to conceal, information regarding both the sport's concussion dangers, as well as the elevator video from the Ray Rice incident.

Lately, the league's interpretation of its own rulebook has come into question, following the controversial Dez Bryant catch ruling and the NFL's subsequent "damage control" feel to its explanation of the play.

When the NFL investigated the "deflategate" allegations surrounding the Patriots, it conducted its inquiry at such a deliberate pace that many felt the league was less concerned about discovering the truth, and more focused on preventing any stigma rubbing off onto its beloved Super Bowl.

Today, however, the NFL started the slow process of rebuilding its reputation by enforcing rules violations committed by two of its franchises.

The first involved the Atlanta Falcons' use of artificial crowd noise, while the second involved the use of a cell phone by a Cleveland Browns executive during a game.  

According to a statement issued by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent, the Atlanta Falcons acknowledged using pre-recorded crowd noise in violation of NFL rules during home games throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season until the club was notified last November that the violation had been identified.

The rule states that "at no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium."

As a result, the Falcons were fined $350,000 and will forfeit their fifth-round selection in the 2016 Draft. If the Falcons have multiple picks in that round, the highest selection will be forfeited.

The NFL review concluded that Roddy White (the team’s former director of event marketing, not the team's wide receiver) was directly responsible for the violation.

White would have been suspended without pay for the first eight weeks of the 2015 regular season had he still been with the club. If he obtains employment with another NFL team during the 2015 season, he may be required to serve some or all of this suspension.

The NFL determined that Falcons' President Rich McKay, was unaware of Mr. White's use of an audio file with artificial crowd noise, but also indicated that McKay shared partial responsibility for ensuring that team employees comply with league rules. Because of that failure to properly monitor his employees, McKay will be suspended from the Competition Committee beginning April 1, and may petition Commissioner Goodell for reinstatement to the committee no sooner than June 30.

As for the Browns, the NFL found that the use of a cell phone on multiple occasions during games in 2014 by Cleveland General Manager Ray Farmer was a violation of NFL rules that prohibit certain uses of electronic devices during games.

As a result, the Browns were fined $250,000, and Ray Farmer was suspended without pay for the first four regular-season games of the 2015 season.

The suspension will start on midnight of the Sunday preceding the Browns' first regular-season game and will end immediately after the Browns' fourth regular-season game. During the period of the suspension, Farmer cannot be involved in any club matters and is prohibited from being at the Browns' offices, practice facility, or at Browns games.

The NFL found no evidence that Browns ownership or any other team executives had knowledge of the prohibited conduct. Once the violation was discovered, Browns management implemented new processes to ensure future compliance.

Clearly, the harsher punishment was doled out to the Falcons, but in truth, the more sophisticated misconduct could have been the use of the phone.

Crowd noise can disrupt snap counts and lead to delay of game penalties against the visiting team's offense, but the potential for a higher degree of cheating is much greater with the phone.

In other words, the phone inherently involves the sharing of information by two people, not a lone rogue crowd noise operator. This is beyond dispute because obviously the caller or sender of a text is utilizing the device to provide information to another party.  More importantly, the information those two might be sharing could involve an opponent's confidential plays or strategies, almost akin to stealing signs.

Although in this case other outlets have reported that the text messages merely concerned information about the Browns' own players and in-game strategy, the potential for cheating is so great that perhaps the NFL should have imposed stronger punishment.

By Staff of and news services

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