Bill Polian has a simple solution to the NFL's latest controversy over whether the Patriots used underinflated footballs in their win over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. It's so simple it's almost ridiculous, given the uproar we're now experiencing. In fact, if the NFL takes him up on his suggestion, we'll never see another brouhaha like this again.
"That's a very simple issue," the former Colts president and GM and current ESPN analyst told me in a phone call.
"Just treat the footballs exactly like the K-balls," he said, referring to the balls used for kicking. "Keep them in the officials' custody until right before the game, and once they've been inspected, give them to a neutral person to handle them during the game on the sidelines."
And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. There's the way forward once the dust settles on the NFL's investigation into the issue of whether the Patriots used deflated footballs as a way to get a better grip on the ball in the windy, rainy conditions.
We need to wait until the investigation is over before jumping to any conclusions. If the Patriots are found to have violated the rules, then this becomes a sequel to the Spygate controversy from 2007, when they were caught illegally taping the Jets' defensive signals. If they're absolved, then they'll undoubtedly rail against the league about being unfairly targeted.
In a league that pays so much attention to image and game-day integrity, there has to be a way to make sure this doesn't happen again. Polian, a longtime member of the NFL's competition committee, has the answer. And it would be silly if the NFL doesn't take him up on his suggestion.
Not just in the Patriots' situation, either. It turns out Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers likes to throw a football that is actually overinflated, something he confided on his radio show in Milwaukee Tuesday.
"If I'm sitting in the league office, I'm saying to myself, 'What do we need this for?' " said Polian, a finalist for this year's Hall of Fame class. "Just treat the game balls the way we treat the K-balls. As long as it's a neutral person handling them, you're fine. That way, you remove any chance that anything untoward can happen."
The solution would be identical to the one the NFL adopted in 1999 as a way to prevent kickers and punters from doctoring the football. Reacting to stories of footballs being put in dryers, microwave ovens -- even saunas and hot tubs -- to give kickers an advantage, the league went to the K-ball to create more equality. The footballs for kickers and punters are new for each game, and thus cannot be tampered with beforehand.
Just as importantly, an independent K-ball coordinator is responsible for handling the K-balls that will be used in the game and giving them to the officials when needed.
Polian reasons that, if you apply the same rules to the game-day footballs, you avoid the possibility that any of them used on offense can be tampered with during the game. Once the footballs are given to the game-day officials for inspection, independent coordinators on each sideline would then handle the footballs during the game.
"I don't want to say is much ado about nothing, and it certainly didn't affect the outcome of the game," Polian said. "But why would you want this issue even surfacing?"
You don't. Which is why the NFL can avoid any future problems with one simple change.
Well done, Mr. Polian.