Monday, February 2, 2015

Why Unlicensed Contractors are Like the New England Patriots

Much of the NFL discussion leading up to last night’s Super Bowl, centered on “deflate-gate.”  Similar stuff happens every day in the service trades.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, deflate-gate is a reference to the AFC Championship game when the New England Patriots were found using under-inflated footballs in wet conditions, making them easier to grip and catch.  New England quarterback, Tom Brady had even mentioned his preference for under-inflated balls in the past.

Colts safety, Mike Adams knew immediately after intercepting a Brady pass that the ball didn’t feel right, so he handed it to his equipment manager for later inspection (Each team provides its own balls, which are checked twice by referees before kickoff).  When Adams intercepted a second pass and discovered that it too, was under-inflated, the Colts complained.  After the game, it was reported that eleven of twelve balls were under-inflated.

It is unlikely Brady didn’t know the balls were under-inflated.  NFL analyst and former Super Bowl quarterback Troy Aikman, not known for hyperbole, commented, “It’s obvious that Tom Brady had something to do with this... for the balls to be deflated, that doesn’t happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that.”

Anyone who ever played sports with an inflated ball finds it hard to imagine someone not recognizing one that’s under-inflated.  This goes for basketball, soccer, volleyball, and football.

It also stretches credibility to think Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick didn’t know about the deflated footballs.  This is a guy who manages details to the degree he tweaks the conditions of practice footballs.  He’s stated, “With regard to footballs, I’m sure that any current or past player of mine will tell you that the balls we practice with, are as bad as they can be — wet, sticky, cold, slippery — however bad we can make ‘em, I make ‘em. And, anytime that players complain about the quality of the balls, I make ‘em worse, and that stops. So, we never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use, and that’s the way it is.”

He’s not helped by a past that is full of transgressions and instances of pushing the limits of the rulebook, if not flagrantly violating it.  For Belichick to be innocent, he would be a leopard who changed his spots.

Ironically, any edge the footballs gave the Patriots was unnecessary.  The team manhandled the overmatch Colts.  They cheated without the need.

This is exactly like unlicensed contractors and unpermitted work.  Just like the Patriots would have won without breaking the rules, contractors can succeed and make money by operating within the constraints of licensing laws and permitting rules.  Like the Patriots, they choose not to.  Why?

I do not understand people who cheat when they need not, people who lie when the truth will serve, and people who steal the work of others when they are capable of producing their own.  I assume they are taking what they perceive is the easier path.  I assume they perceive the risk/reward ratio tilted in favor of breaking the rules.

If breaking the rules in the NFL had consequences, New England’s win over the Colts would have been forfeit.  Whether the underinflated balls altered the outcome of the game or not, it was cheating.  At the very least, the NFL could have suspended Belichick and Brady for the Super Bowl.  After a Super Bowl win any punishment seems trite, trivial, and irrelevant. 

It’s like catching a kid with his hand in the cookie jar, but letting him eat the cookie anyway, and then telling him he couldn’t have another.  At that point, who cares?

The reason the NFL failed to take action is the cost.  The consequence of suspending coaches, players, or instituting a forfeit would have tarnished the league and turned the Super Bowl into a joke.  Most fans would have seen it as overkill.  It was a cost no one was willing to take.  Thus, the reward of a potential edge, no matter how slight, is greater than an ephemeral cost factored by the risk of getting caught.

Similarly, the risks and costs of getting caught operating without a license or performing work without permits represent insufficient deterrence for contractors.  While we could raise the penalties or tighten enforcement to increase the risk of getting caught, no one is willing to accept the costs.  Few in the public would consider it acceptable, for example, to incarcerate an unlicensed contractor.  No one wants to pay for a significant increase in enforcement personnel.

Whether in sports or contracting, you can play hard and still play by the rules.  You can also seek to win at all costs, regardless of rules and ethics.  It’s your choice.  Personally, I choose to sleep well at night and maintain the ability look myself in the mirror when I wake.

© 2015 Matt Michel

If you’re a Patriots fan who is all injured by this column, just remember you won a Super Bowl last night.  Meanwhile, I pull for the Cowboys.  You don’t have to say anything else.