The Super Bowl is only seven days away, but it’s football inflation, or lack thereof, that has been the focus of much of the coverage from national media and major newspapers.
Welcome to Deflategate, the NFL’s latest controversy in a season filled with them. This time it’s about whether footballs used by New England in the NFC Championship Game last Sunday were underinflated to give the Patriots’ offense an unfair advantage. A week later, the controversy is still raging, and it isn’t going away as media from around the world assemble in Glendale, Ariz., for the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 between the Seahawks and Patriots.
Here’s a roundup of what The Seattle Times published overnight and a roundup of what the national media and major newspapers are saying on the subject.
I thought the Bill Belichick press conference Saturday afternoon was extraordinary. Clearly, he realized his integrity, and that of his organization, was under fire. He wanted to tell the world there was, in his mind, a rational explanation for the decline in pressure in the footballs during the first half of the AFC Championship Game. He wanted to tell the world stridently that he thought his team and his staff did absolutely nothing wrong. He wanted to tell the world he was proud of his players for continually persevering and becoming the best team in the AFC this season, which the Patriots certainly are. It was passionate and moving and very human.
Now, it was great TV, and it showed a side of Belichick we rarely get to see—the loyal and earnest and fiery and educational Belichick, all at once. But I’m not sure it changed very much. We still don’t know why New England’s footballs were fine before the game, low at halftime (at least 11, according to Chris Mortensen), inflated to the proper level by the officiating crew, and then fine after the game. So that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk reported Sunday, quoting a league source, that 10 of the New England footballs “may have been closer to one pound below the minimum limit for inflation,” which leads to an important part of the investigation.
Many of you have asked a logical question that I agree needs to be answered by the league. The allowable range of air pressure in NFL balls is between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. If the Indianapolis footballs were checked before the game and found to be at 13.5 psi, theoretically they could have lost a pound each and still have been good. So if New England’s footballs were at 12.5 when delivered to the officials before the game and passed muster on the electric gauge that tests them, it’s conceivable they could have lost one psi and tested faulty at halftime.
I don’t know that it’s likely. But it certainly is an issue that must be solved.
1. The big issue is a six-to-10-minute window of time between when the officials release the ball to the ball boys and the start of the game.
My feeling after talking to several people with knowledge of the officiating process—and after witnessing it last year when I followed the Gene Steratore crew in Chicago—is that there is some time period of less than 10 minutes between the handover of footballs to ball boys and the start of the game. A good estimate is six to 10 minutes. On the Steratore crew last year, he and his head linesman, Wayne Mackie, waited until two or three minutes before the national anthem was played, and that’s when they gave the balls to the ball boys. Then it’s usually two or three minutes post-anthem before teams line up for the opening kickoffs. A quick review of what happens to the balls: A dozen balls, minimum, are delivered by each team to the officials 2 hours and 15 minutes before the game. The balls are checked for air pressure. If they fall between 12.5 and 13.5 psi, the balls are put aside and marked for use by one of the officials. If they are either too high or too low, air is either added or taken out so the balls are within range.
If the Colts’ footballs were all delivered to the officials at 13.5 psi, the crew would have done nothing. If the Patriots’ football were all delivered at 12.5 psi, the crew would have done nothing. But I don’t know what specific level of pressure the footballs had when they were released to the control of the ball boys.
That six- or 10-minute window is key to this investigation. In fact, it’s the biggest key. Did anything untoward happen in that time?
2. How did the players and teams get such control over the footballs? Why doesn’t the league take control of the football-prep process?
Let’s go back to 2006, to something I wrote just before the start of that season. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, backed by 20 other starting quarterbacks, petitioned the league to allow each team—rather than just the home team—to condition the footballs it would use on offense each week in the way it saw fit. Brady had been bothered by the inconsistent feel of footballs from game to game. The pre-2006 rule called for 36 official balls, manufactured by Wilson, to be provided to the home team for each outdoor game and 24 for each indoor game, the balls to be available for testing with a pressure gauge by officials two hours before kickoff. The home team and the officials had the option to use league-approved products supplied by Wilson (a bristle brush, a tack cloth and a semihard spongy cube) to rub down the game balls and remove the waxy, slippery sheen that they have when they come out of the box. A few quarterbacks preferred the balls to feel nearly new. Most, like Brady and Manning, want that sheen rubbed off so they can get a better grip and give the ball a broken-in feel.
“Imagine,” Brady told me at the time, “if Derek Jeter were handed a brand-new glove just before the start of every game. Baseball players break in their gloves until they feel perfect to them. It’s ridiculous to [be forced to] play with new footballs. I can tell you there’ve been nights before road games when I have had trouble sleeping because I’m thinking about what kind of footballs I’ll be throwing the next day.”
So after the 2005 season, while having dinner together in Miami Beach, Brady and Manning decided to approach their fellow quarterbacks about petitioning the NFL competition committee to change the rule. Brady proposed that the visiting team have access to a certain number of the allotted game balls—the number turned out to be 12—so it could prepare them the way it wanted; those balls would be stamped with the visiting team’s name and kept on the visitors’ sideline for use when that team was on offense. The remainder of the balls would be prepared by the hosts to their liking, 12 kept on the sideline for use on their drives and the other dozen in reserve in case bad weather created the need for additional balls. The competition committee approved the plan the next month, and it’s been that way ever since.
There is no video evidence to destroy this time, no Ray Rice inside-the-elevator DVD to track inside the league office.
Only Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and the Patriots employees whose job it is to keep Brady’s footballs softer than NFL law allows and the officials for the tainted AFC Championship Game.
And a Commissioner who is again playing with fire, this time with what seems to be a delay-of-game strategy that threatens to take the air out of the trust of the general public and turn Super Bowl Week into Hell Week for everyone concerned — players, coaches, executives, corporate sponsors and fans.
A week that would be consumed with a tsunami of questions from wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins to players on the Patriots and Seahawks, and possibly end with an image many fans, who still wonder whether the Patriots again deflated integrity and sportsmanship, would find troubling and suspicious: Roger Goodell handing the Lombardi Trophy over to Belichick and Brady.
After he hands it to the owner who has been such a staunch supporter through his well-documented trials and tribulations, Robert Kraft.
Therein lies the grave risk for Goodell and the NFL with an unresolved Deflategate: An America that can’t help believing the league is soft on the Patriots, of all teams, at the worst possible time. An America that questions whether its pledge of integrity is little more than lip service. An America that will be left wondering what the NFL knew and when the NFL knew it should the league mete out suspensions to Belichick and/or Brady at the start of next season instead of on Super Sunday, or merely slap the Pats on the wrist.
It is undoubtedly a treacherous high-wire Goodell is walking, seemingly between a rock and a hard football place for him.
On Wednesday, I investigated whether the New England Patriots outperform expectations in bad weather and found that, yes, they do. Then I remembered this remarkable fact: The 2014 Patriots were just the third team in the last 25 years to never have lost a fumble at home! The biggest difference between the Patriots and the other two teams that did it was that New England ran between 150 and 200 more plays this year than those teams, making the Patriots stand alone in this unique statistic. Based on the desire to incorporate full-season data (not just home games, as a team theoretically would bring “doctored footballs” with it on the road) I performed the following analysis:
I looked at the last five years of data and examined total fumbles lost in all games (as well as fumbles per game) and, more importantly, total offensive plays run. Thus, I was able to determine average plays per fumble lost. The results are displayed in the chart above. Keep in mind, this is for all games since 2010.
One can clearly see the Patriots, visually, are off the chart. There is no other team even close to being near to their rate of 187 offensive plays per fumble lost. The league average is 105 plays per fumble lost. Most teams are within 21 plays of that number.
I spoke with a data scientist whom I know from work on NFLproject.com and sent him the data. He said:
Based on the assumption that fumbles per play follow a normal distribution, you’d expect to see, according to random fluctuation, the results that the Patriots have gotten over this period, once in 16,233.77 instances.
Which in layman’s terms means that this result only being a coincidence, is like winning a raffle where you have a 0.0000616 probability to win. [In] other words, it’s very unlikely that it’s a coincidence.
I actually went back and researched five-year periods for the entire NFL over the last 25 years. The Patriots’ ratio of 187 plays to 1 fumble lost is the best of any team in the NFL for any five-year span of time over the last 25 years. It wasn’t just the best—it wasn’t close.
Things I never thought I would hear at a Bill Belichick press conference: “Now, we all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions . . . ” and “I would not say that I’m Mona Lisa Vito of the football world, as she was in the car expertise area, all right?”
But unusual times call for unusual measures and measurements, so Bill Belichick the Science Guy broke it all down Saturday in an unscheduled press conference, making an impassioned, entirely plausible and convincing case for why Deflategate is just a bunch of hot air.
Instead of PI (pass interference) he talked about PSI (pounds per square inch). Instead of third-down efficiency he talked about footballs reaching their true equilibrium. Sick of both his and his team’s reputation being impugned, Belichick turned forensic football scientist and turned the pressure up on the NFL to validate its case.
Belichick’s science fare revealed the Patriots conducted a study that explained why without tampering the NFL would have found footballs at halftime of the AFC Championship game last Sunday that were below league specifications (12.5 to 13.5 PSI) after testing within those specifications before the game.
Belichick also said the Patriots tried to have quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo discern the difference in balls that lost one PSI, and they couldn’t do it. (At two PSI, they had some luck.) This ostensibly would dispel the notion that Brady should have been able to feel the difference.
Your move, NFL. Belichick just blinded you with science.
Bill Nye “the Science Guy” listened to Bill Belichick the football guy give a science-y explanation for how the New England Patriots’ footballs became deflated last week and “what he said didn’t make any sense.”
This is probably the first in a procession of scientists who will bring a whole new level of scrutiny to the subject as Super Bowl XLIX week begins, but Nye, a mechanical engineer who made a name for himself on TV, said he believes that scientific explanations for how the balls lost their loft hold no water. “I’m not too worried about Coach Belichick competing with me,” Nye said. “What he said didn’t make any sense.”
Instead, Nye told “Good Morning America” that he thinks they could have become deflated only by deliberate, manual means. That’s the opposite argument Belichick made in a press conference Saturday, when he said that no one had tampered with the balls, deflating them below the NFL’s 12.5 pounds per square inch threshold.
To change the pressure in a ball, Nye said, “you need one of these” and held up gauge with a needle.
At this point, it’s unclear whether the NFL will find any evidence to support the suspicion that someone from the Patriots deliberately caused footballs to lose air pressure. If the NFL fails to find a proverbial smoking gun, that alone could become a different kind of smoking gun.
Even if (and at this point it could be a big if) the league finds proof of foul play, was it really worth it? The NFL has tarnished its own shield by painting a Super Bowl participant as a cheater without clear evidence of cheating. As noted on Friday, some believe that former Commissioners (such as Paul Tagliabue) would have addressed complaints coming from teams like the Colts regarding underinflated footballs not by trying to lay a trap for the Patriots, but by letting the Patriots know that the league office is paying attention to the situation, and that if there’s any funny business happening it needs to stop, now. Instead, the league office opted to try to catch the Patriots red handed.
But what has the NFL really found? As one league source has explained it to PFT, the football intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was roughly two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. The other 10 balls that reportedly were two pounds under may have been, as the source explained it, closer to one pound below 12.5 PSI.
The NFL has yet to share specific information regarding the PSI measurements of the balls that were confiscated and measured at halftime. Which has allowed the perception of cheating to linger, fueled by the confirmation from Friday that the NFL found underinflated balls, but that the NFL still doesn’t know how they came to be that way.
“The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action,” the league said. “We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence.”
Regardless of how hard or easy it could be or should be to get to the truth, the NFL owes it to the Patriots and the league to get there, quickly. Instead, the premier American sporting event apparently will be played under a dark cloud, and anything other than an eventual finding of cheating will seem anticlimactic and contrived. Even if the conclusion is regarded as legitimate, it won’t undo the damage that the Patriots and the NFL will have suffered during this bizarre period of pending allegations that have not yet been proven.
You think the New York City tabloids are having fun with the Deflategate controversy? Oh, you bet they are. Mix one part controversy (allegations that the Patriots intentionally tampered with their game balls during their AFC Championship Game win over the Colts), one part rivalry (it involves a Boston sports team), one part absurdity (the repeated use of the word “balls” during Tom Brady’s press conference) and one part editorial creativity, and you have a formula for newspaper magic. To wit: Here are the New York Daily News back page headlines over the last four days.
MY BALLS ARE PERFECT (Jan. 23)
U CHEAT BRO? (Jan. 22)
BY THE BALLS! (Jan. 21)
BALLBUSTER (Jan 20)
Many tabloid newspapers refer to these eye-catching, pun-happy front and back page headlines as “the wood”. Says Teri Thompson, the managing editor of sports for the New York Daily News and an award-winning investigative reporter, “It can be a noun or a verb. We’ll say ‘We are going to wood with this,’ or ‘This is the wood.'”
ou know what I find deflating? Mostly the current state of the NFL itself. A season that began amid a storm of controversy is ending in the same way. We’re less than 10 days away from Super Bowl 49—supposedly the pinnacle of the football year, if not the sports calendar—and we’re talking more about air pressure in game balls than we are about the pressure of the playoffs.
Once again the game on the field is being overshadowed, and controversy has almost completely trumped competition. I don’t know about you, but in this season like none other in NFL history, I’ve come down with a serious case of controversy fatigue.
Yes, by all means, investigate and punish those evildoers in New England, with their penchant for cutting corners and pushing the envelope until it no longer looks like an envelope. Rules are rules, even though they do get twisted out of shape from time to time. But don’t try turning this story about two pounds per square inch of missing air into the Hornung-Karras gambling investigation, because it ain’t that. This doesn’t rise to the level of threatening the integrity of the game in any lasting way. Sorry, but I’m not buying into that popular level of hyperventilation.
Some perspective, please?
When the Patriots’ football deflation scandal leads all three broadcast networks’ news broadcasts, as it did on Thursday night, we might officially be through the looking glass. If that’s the most important story in the world, then it says more about our judgment and our focus than it does the significance of the topic. And it also proves, to no surprise, that controversy drives both the league and the news cycle like never before. (And how lucky are we that deflate rhymes with gate, as if we ever needed the impetus of a rhyme to attach –gate to any tempest? Who can forget the Super Bowl’s Nipplegate?)
I don’t think I’m alone here. A good deal of football fans must be beyond weary of the nonstop controversies engulfing the NFL these days. Sure, the attention and scrutiny come with the game’s enormous popularity, but the game itself shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of the scandals and contretemps du jour. But it has all too often this season, on numerous fronts.
You want to talk about deflating?
I find it deflating that in just these playoffs alone, going by the eyeball test, no one still has any idea of what actually constitutes a legal catch, or how to describe its rule-book definition in a pithy 100 words or less.
I find it deflating that pass interference, possession of the ball, and what is or isn’t a muffed punt are still open for debate and subjective interpretation—to the point that not even the NFL’s director of officials and the referee analysts on TV (who used to be NFL referees, or even the league’s director of officials!) can consistently agree on calls.
If you don’t like Tom Brady, you won’t believe a word he had to say Thursday. The problem is that I do like Brady, and I still don’t believe what he said.
Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, wants us to believe that:
Before games, like most quarterbacks, he makes sure the footballs meet his precise specifications. He likes them to have 12.5 pounds of pressure per square inch. Presumably, he also likes them worked in so they are not too shiny, too slippery, too waxy, or covered in maple syrup. Then — he made this point multiple times Thursday — he doesn’t want anybody touching them. They’re perfect the way they are.
And yet, during the first half of the Patriots’ AFC Championship win over the Colts, Brady was playing with balls that were well under his preferred 12.5 pounds of PSI. At least 11 of the 12 were under-inflated.
But guess what? He didn’t notice. He had nothing to do with it. He has no idea how it happened. Maybe a manager did it on his own, maybe there was a porcupine in the ball bag. But Brady — Tom Brady, the same extremely competitive, detail-oriented man who helped lobby the league to allow quarterbacks to supply their own footballs — didn’t notice they were under-inflated.
Then, at the start of the second half, Brady started using new footballs that were properly inflated and he said he didn’t notice the difference.
Cheat on a test in school? You fail, no questions asked.
Cheat on your taxes, the IRS will find you. It won’t be pretty.
Cheat on a World Cup bid and, well, you probably get awarded that World Cup, but that’s neither here nor there.
The New England Patriots cheated in the AFC championship. As such, the team should be disqualified from the Super Bowl.
Deflating 11 of 12 balls in Sunday’s game, as has been reported by ESPN, is a major violation and something that had a great affect on the game. Given the number of deflated balls, it’s almost impossible this was accident, meaning that someone in the New England organization willfully tampered with the rules to give his team an advantage. That’s cheating.
The penalty should be simple: Ban ‘em.
It turns out there’s a pesky little gremlin lurking around in the Patriots equipment room deflating footballs. Mystery solved. We should have known all along there was a logical explanation for the “Deflategate” scandal gripping the Sport Nation.
“When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to learn of the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the situation,” said a famously crotchety Belichick. “I was completely totally unaware of anything.”That’s pretty much what New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick, would have us believe after their less-than illuminating press conferences yesterday. Both men claimed they were just as stumped as us over how exactly 11 out of 12 of the team’s footballs used AFC Championship game against Indianapolis had been illegally deflated below regulation specs.
It turns out there’s a pesky little gremlin lurking around in the Patriots equipment room deflating footballs. Mystery solved. We should have known all along there was a logical explanation for the “Deflategate” scandal gripping the Sport Nation.
That’s pretty much what New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick, would have us believe after their less-than illuminating press conferences yesterday. Both men claimed they were just as stumped as us over how exactly 11 out of 12 of the team’s footballs used AFC Championship game against Indianapolis had been illegally deflated below regulation specs.
The Deflategate controversy took on a more spirited and scientific tone on Saturday as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick forcefully defended his team in a hastily scheduled press conference. While twice professing that he is “not a scientist,” Belichick shared details of pressure and atmospheric tests conducted by the team over the past week.
The tests, according to Belichick, help prove that scientific phenomena rather than malfeasance are to blame for Deflategate. The tests involved simulating the life of a Patriots football on game day. The Patriots’ standard procedures for handling and treating the ball were replicated. Belichick said the tests show that air pressure level of the ball fell approximately 1.5 pounds per inch. He also said he closely reviewed all team activities related to footballs and found no evidence of any wrongdoing by Patriots staff.
While Belichick convincingly explained the tests and shifted the focus of Deflategate from human wrongdoing to scientific inquiry, his explanation will warrant scrutiny from NFL officials.
For starters, the Patriots’ studies have not been published, have not been “peer reviewed” and, although some experts such as Boston College physics professor Michael Naughton say weather clearly played a role in Deflategate, no independent party has replicated the Patriots’ studies (a company called HeadSmart Labs has conducted what may be a similar study). None of these things disqualify the results Belichick shared with the media, but independent confirmation is crucial in the validation of scientific findings. On Sunday, engineer Bill Nye (aka The Science Guy) bluntly told Good Morning America that Belichick’s statements on ball pressure “didn’t make any sense.” Nye’s rebuke of Belichick doesn’t disprove Belichick, but it highlights why the NFL will want outside experts to study and confirm the Patriots’ tests. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots release written materials connected to their tests, such as precise details on methodologies and measurements.
Also, while Belichick assured reporters his team had consulted with many people before conducting the tests, he didn’t explicitly say that physicists and similar science experts were involved. Belichick, though, does have at least one person with expertise on his staff: defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has a degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Belichick also did not address why balls used by the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game by some accounts didn’t experience a similar air pressure drop. These balls were exposed to the same weather and atmospheric conditions as Patriots footballs. In fairness to Belichick, it is plausible that the unique manner in which the Patriots prepare footballs impacted the loss in air pressure.
But attributing fault to science doesn’t explain why Patriots officials weren’t aware of how the balls could be impacted. Weather and atmospheric effects are to some degree predictable, particularly if they occur in patterns and cause consistent effects. In law, blaming scientific phenomena often fails to work when the phenomena should have been observed and considered.
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