Sports Illustrated writer Peter King recently quoted Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News as saying that "the Indianapolis Colts violated the public trust Sunday." It's been a popular sentiment this week in the wake of Jim Caldwell's decision to pull Peyton Manning and other starters in the third quarter of a home game against the New York Jets.
While most analysts and fans seem to agree that pulling Peyton Manning(notes) was a bad football move, was it really such an egregious violation of NFL conduct? There are legimiate points to be made by both sides:
-- Sanction 'em. The Colts basically threw Sunday's game. Taking Manning out was waving the white flag. The more I think about it, the more it seems that Caldwell actually wanted to lose. All coaches have faith in their teams, but surely Caldwell couldn't think that throwing Curtis Painter(notes) to Rex Ryan's swarming defense was going to end well. Is there a chance he would have preferred to go into the playoffs without the added pressures of an unblemished record?
Even if Caldwell didn't want to lose, the fact that he didn't care enough about winning should cause Roger Goodell to take action. Chad Ochocinco gets fined $20,000 for having the audacity to make a joke about the appearance of impropriety, but then the Colts go out and actually do something that besmirches the integrity of the league and nothing happens? Is the commish more worried about perception than reality?
Can you imagine the uproar that would take place if the St. Louis Rams pulled its starters this weekend to ensure itself the No. 1 pick in next year's draft? How is what Jim Caldwell did any different? He gave up. He broke the trust that the ticket buyer has in the team to put out its best product. Now fine him.
-- Blame the system. Why should Jim Caldwell be blamed for taking advantage of a system that allows teams to play meaningless late-season games? His team is 14-0. They earned the right to do whatever they want in weeks 16 and 17. (You know what would be the best way to solve this, Roger Goodell? Extending the season by two more weeks. That won't cause any problems.)
Nobody cares when baseball teams move around starters late in the year so they can set a playoff rotation, so why should we care when a football team basically does the same? Say what you will about Jim Caldwell's decision, but if he thought that benching Peyton Manning and other starters was the best way to prepare the Colts for the playoffs what right do we have to tell him he's wrong? We can disagree all we went, but fining him would make the NFL no different than Big Brother. It's his team, let him do what he wants.
Think of it this way: If the same exact thing happened last weekend, but the Colts were 13-1 instead of 14-0, would anyone be talking about this? No way. Because Indy was undefeated the masses think it has a right to demand the quest for history. It shouldn't make a difference.
Colts ticket holders have no more reason to be upset than Browns ticket holders do because Cleveland puts out a crappy product on the field. Unless the Constitution has changed since I was in high school, there is no right to entertainment. I plopped down $10 for "The Blind Side," but you don't see me calling up Warner Bros. and asking for my money back.
I side more with the former argument rather than the latter. Caldwell showed a pathetic lack of fortitude in pulling his starters and I won't be rooting for his team in the playoffs as a result. But it's his team and he can do what he wants. Just because I often disagree with Jim Zorn's decisions doesn't mean I think he's violating the unspoken agreement between team and fan. As misguided as he was, Jim Caldwell's decision was made in the best interests of his team.