U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman has vacated the four-game suspension the NFL imposed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" scandal.
The National Football League, Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association failed to reach a settlement Monday concerning Brady's four-game suspension, and U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman had said he would make his ruling on the case before the Friday deadline for sticking a fork in the scandal known as Deflategate.
Berman's three options were to uphold Brady's suspension, overturn it or send the case back to an arbitrator.
The controversy began when the New England Patriots were accused of using underinflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage in the Patriots' AFC championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts in January. The Patriots won that game by a landslide and went on to win the Super Bowl in a thrilling last-minute finish.
The NFL hired high-profile attorney Ted Wells, of Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Eliot Spitzer fame, to investigate. The Wells Report found "it is more probable than not" that John Jastremski, the Patriots' attendant for the game officials' locker room, and equipment assistant Jim McNally deliberately deflated the balls after referees had inspected them.
"It also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls," the report said.
And there's the rub.
The NFL punished Brady with a four-game suspension, but Brady wholly denied involvement and appealed the decision. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the suspension, and both the NFL and the Players Association filed to have the suspension's validity decided in federal court.
But even when Berman reaches a decision, the legal battle may not be over. His decision can be appealed, and the losing side is expected to take its case to the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Either side could also seek a stay of Berman's decision.
Both sides will pray for a rapid decision, as the New England Patriots' first regular-season game, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is scheduled for September 10.