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NFL fines Broncos, McDaniels $50,000 each for videotaping infraction

Josh McDaniels

Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels reacts to a call during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)


The NFL has concluded that former Broncos director of video operations Steve Scarnecchia indeed recorded a portion of the 49ers’ walk-through practice conducted at Wembley Stadium in London. But the league also has concluded that coach Josh McDaniels refused to watch the tape.

The end result? Scarnecchia has been fired with cause, the Broncos have been fined $50,000 because they are responsible for the conduct of their employees, and McDaniels has been fined $50,000 for not immediately reporting the infraction.

Because the league has determined that Scarnecchia is a repeat offender of the policy in question (the specific nature of the prior violation is not yet clear, given that he left the Patriots after the 2004 season), the league will conduct a hearing aimed at determining whether he should be barred from further employment with the league or any of its teams.

“The investigation disclosed that on October 30, the day before the Broncos played the 49ers in London, Steve Scarnecchia, Denver’s video director, was present in Wembley Stadium,” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. “He was properly at the stadium, along with players, coaches and other club staff, to prepare for the October 31 game. During this time, the Broncos conducted their final walk-thru. After the Denver players and most of the other team staff left Wembley, Mr. Scarnecchia remained behind to continue setting up his equipment for the next day. At one point he noticed that the 49ers were conducting their walk-thru practice, and he surreptitiously recorded a portion (approximately six minutes in length) of that practice.”

Goodell’s letter carefully points out that the investigation revealed no active culpability on McDaniels’ part. “Our investigators immediately and independently interviewed Coach McDaniels and did so under circumstances that would have made it impossible for him to have spoken to Mr. Scarnecchia in advance. (It is also significant that your staff had not previously discussed the matter with Coach McDaniels; thus, his meeting with NFL Security was the first time that he had been questioned on the matter.) Coach McDaniels recounted essentially the same sequence of events as Mr. Scarnnechia had previously disclosed -- namely, that Mr. Scarnecchia had come to him and advised that he had recorded the walk-thru, and that Coach McDaniels told Mr. Scarnecchia that he was not interested in watching the tape and did not do so,” Goodell wrote.

“Based on our investigation, we have found no evidence to suggest that Coach McDaniels or any other member of the coaching staff watched the tape. Nor have we identified any evidence to suggest that any member of the coaching staff or club management directed Mr. Scarnecchia to record the practice. We are aware of no evidence that would indicate the recording of any other opposing team practices or walk-thrus, or the like. And there is no reason to believe that the improper videotaping in London had any competitive effect on the October 31 game between the Broncos and 49ers.”

That last point goes without saying, given that the Broncos lost the game.

Still, we’re somewhat troubled by the reduced consequence. The Broncos and McDaniels knew or should have known they were hiring a guy who had previously cheated, based on the league’s conclusion that Scarnecchia is a multiple offender. Moreover, McDaniels arguably has gotten a pass for failing to immediately alert the team and the league to a case of cheating far worse, in our view, that the videotaping of in-game coaching signals.

“The coach’s failure to do so is inconsistent with the Policy on Integrity of the Game, which imposes an obligation on executives, head coaches and others with knowledge of violations to report them promptly,” Goodell wrote. “Because Coach McDaniels failed to do so, I have decided to impose a fine on him of $50,000. I have also, as you know, personally discussed this matter with Coach McDaniels, and have emphasized his critical role in fostering and maintaining a culture of integrity within the football organization. I believe that he now understands his responsibilities in this respect, and am hopeful that he will live up to those responsibilities in the future.”

We’re not sure that the Costanza-style “was that wrong?” approach should apply here. McDaniels was employed by the Patriots when Spygate occurred. He also was working for the Patriots when allegations of a videotaped walk-through practice hit the fan only days before Super Bowl XLII. McDaniels knows the sensitivity of these matters, and even though he’s only 34 he should have been expected to sound the alarm. Failure to say anything to anyone could be -- and arguably should be -- proof enough to presume that he wanted to cover it all up.

Of course, the team isn’t bound by the league’s decision. Indeed, with McDaniels presumed to be safe due to the fact that former coach Mike Shanahan is still receiving a buyout, the team could hold McDaniels to a higher standard, and the Broncos possibly could fire him for cause, cutting off any future payments.