It's been a hoot reading and listening to pundits and armchair legal analysts speculate on the fate awaiting Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on charges of illegal dogfighting.
First the easy part: You can expect Vick to be handed a harsher sentence than the one year being bandied about by some observers.
The judge has already said the acts described by Vick's co-conspirators suggest "aggravating" circumstances. Often that means a sentence more harsh than lenient.
With Vick as the major, if not only, source of funding for the operation, it's likely the judge will view him as the ringleader of the enterprise.
The federal guidelines generally suggest a sentence of anywhere from 12 to 18 months for the crime to which Vick will plead guilty. My guess is that the judge may well hand down a longer jail term. Why? Because the men who pleaded guilty ahead of Vick will probably get the stiffer end of the suggested sentencing range, or about 18 months.
Our national surveys show that most Americans support a "strong penalty" for Vick. When asked why, few said his celebrity status had anything to do with it. Most said he should be handed a long jail sentence because they believe his codefendants couldn't have financed the dogfighting ring, so Vick must have. And remember, beyond the actual fighting, there was unimaginably sadistic treatment of dogs going on.
My guess is that the judge's thinking will be more or less in line with the general public's opinion.
Now let's look beyond the legalities. When, if ever, will Michael Vick play pro football again? Let's combine a little legal analysis with some public opinion.
The National Football League has an established policy that a player can be banned from the league for life if that player associates with gambling in a way that discredits the league.
The sworn statements entered in court by two of Vick's co-conspirators last week said Vick bankrolled the gambling operation that surrounded the dogfighting ring. Detailed information has been entered into the legal record that describes approximate dates of the fights, dollar amounts wagered and deplorable acts against those dogs judged incapable of winning.
Many analysts are hanging their hats on what Vick reveals in his statement of facts when he pleads guilty before the court, or on whether local prosecutors plan to charge him with gambling. That would make a lifetime ban from the NFL more likely.
The truth is that the courts will probably have no impact on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's ultimate decision. Over and again the NFL has said it's waiting for a report from the league's own highly regarded security team. And Goodell has urged the Atlanta Falcons to take no action against Vick until the league's investigation is complete.
Guess what? That report is likely complete, and will probably say that Vick associated with gambling in a way that, to put it mildly, "discredits the league."
That means a lifetime ban for Mike Vick.
You might ask why Goodell would take such a hard stand. But the more you look at the situation, the more his reasons are plain.
First, what had been divided opinion over Vick has consolidated into a general agreement among the public that he broke the law and participated in a viciously cruel activity.
If Goodell is to rid the league of Vick, now is the time to strike. Sympathy will grow for Number Seven over time. Such a strict punishment might not be as acceptable to the public in several months.
More importantly, Goodell wants to avoid having a renegade NFL owner bring Vick -- along with animal rights protesters and others with long memories -- back into the league, even if it's three or four years from now.
Yes, it's possible that if the sentence is long enough, Goodell might take the route of adding a year's suspension from the league following Vick's release, thus effectively making a comeback far less likely.
But Roger Goodell doesn't seem to want to wait until the final sentences are handed down in the coming months. It seems he's relying on the findings of his own league security team, which apparently knows all the facts surrounding the situation, to make his decision. And that probably means "Bad Newz" for Mike Vick.