Much has been said and reported concerning the legality of the footballs used by the New England Patriots during the first half of their AFC Conference Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Let me start this article out by stating that the inflation level of the Patriot’s footballs had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the game. New England was clearly and obviously the better team in that game. This is evidenced by the fact that New England led at the end of the first half by 10 points (17-7). In the second half, using NFL legally inflated footballs, they outscored the Colts by 28 points which resulted in the 45-7 blowout.
What this has everything to do with is the integrity of both the New England Franchise and the NFL itself.
Let’s start by reviewing what we do know to this point;
- Prior to the start of every NFL game, team equipment personnel prepare a number of footballs that will be used during the course of the game. What they do and how they do it is somewhat of a mystery to me but suffice to say, as a minimum, they condition the surface of each ball to match the personal preference of their starting Quarterbacks. Part of this process includes ensuring that each ball is inflated to the NFL specification of 12.5 – 13.5 psi. (more on this later)
- At some point in time, reported as being within 2 hours prior to kick-off, league officials (assumed by me, and later confirmed to be the officiating crew assigned to the game) inspect each football submitted by both teams’ equipment personnel. Common sense dictates that this “inspection” would include a visual and tactile evaluation of the surfaces of the balls to ensure that no foreign substances have been applied and that this would be followed by physically measuring the psi of each ball or, as a minimum, a sufficient sample size selected at random.
- After being approved for use by the officials, the game balls are then moved to the sideline of each respective team and are ostensibly sequestered until the game commences.
- For whatever reason (not germane to this discussion) , after half-time the NFL decided to re-inspect the game balls that had been previously submitted by New England and found eleven out of twelve were under the 12.5 – 13.5 specification by up to 2.0 psi.
- The pressure gauge used during the official’s pre-game approval process was provided by the home team’s equipment personnel (per league rule).
What we don’t know;
- Who, if anyone other than Patriots equipment personnel, had access to the approved game balls between the time that the officials had completed their pre-game approval process and the game balls were sequestered on the Patriots’ sideline?
- Was the pressure gauge used after half-time the same gauge used during the official’s pre-game approval process?
Sports fans everywhere love a good witch hunt. I would venture that there isn’t an internet message board or forum in existence that doesn’t have its fair share of jail house lawyers or conspiracy theorists that have offered up as gospel various reasons for the psi discrepancy.
Initially, the most popular reason was that the Patriots had inflated the game balls and checked the psi indoors where the ambient room temperature was around 70 to 75 degrees and then, after sitting outside where the ambient temperature ranged from 35 to 40 degrees, the psi dropped accordingly. While somewhat true, the laws of physics will show that yes, psi will drop when the ambient temperature is reduced but not by over 16% with a change in ambient temperature of only 30 degrees. It would also show that all twelve game balls would have a lower psi – not just eleven of them. (Even if that 12th ball had been initially inflated to the max of 13.5 psi, a 16% reduction in this value would be 11.3 psi. Still below the 12.5 minimum.)
Another popular message board excuse is that there had to be a difference in readings between the gauges used by the Patriots’ equipment personnel and the league officials. While there might be a modicum of credence to this, it’s doubtful that even the cheapest blue light special pressure gauges from Walmart would return a difference in psi values that equal the 16%. Add in the fact that the home team provides the gauge with which the game balls were measured.
Then there is another popular one. How could the Patriots tamper with the psi on the sidelines in front of (insert your own number here) people in the stands? The answer is quite simple. They didn’t. If the Patriots tampered with the psi, there was more than sufficient time to accomplish this deed between when the officials released the approved the game balls and when they were sequestered on the sideline. It took me about 15 seconds to deflate one football by 2 psi. Do the math and it comes to roughly 3 minutes to deflate twelve balls.
And then there is this gem . . . my personal favorite. The Patriots must have inflated the footballs with hot air (a rebuttal to the ambient temperature theory). No debunking necessary. It stands on its own.
Just so readers of this can speak to the rules with some degree of confidence, the actual NFL rules regarding game balls follows:
Rule 2 The Ball
- The Ball must be a “Wilson,” hand selected, bearing the signature of the Commissioner of the League, Roger Goodell.
- The ball shall be made up of an inflated (12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds) urethane bladder enclosed in a pebble grained, leather case (natural tan color) without corrugations of any kind. It shall have the form of a prolate spheroid and the size and weight shall be:
- long axis, 11 to 11 1/4 inches;
- long circumference, 28 to 28 1/2 inches;
- short circumference, 21 to 21 1/4 inches;
- weight,14 to 15 ounces.
- The Referee shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications. A pump is to be furnished by the home club, and the balls shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.
- Each team will make 12 primary balls available for testing by the Referee two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game to meet League requirements. The home team will also make 12 backup balls available for testing in all stadiums. In addition, the visitors, at their discretion, may bring 12 backup balls to be tested by the Referee for games held in outdoor stadiums. For all games, eight new footballs, sealed in a special box and shipped by the manufacturer to the Referee, will be opened in the officials’ locker room two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game. These balls are to be specially marked by the Referee and used exclusively for the kicking game.
- In the event a home team ball does not conform to specifications, or its supply is exhausted, the Referee shall secure a proper ball from the visitors and, failing that, use the best available ball. Any such circumstances must be reported to the Commissioner.
- In case of rain or a wet, muddy, or slippery field, a playable ball shall be used at the request of the offensive team’s center. The Game Clock shall not stop for such action (unless undue delay occurs).
- Note: It is the responsibility of the home team to furnish playable balls at all times by attendants from either side of the playing field.
If this article sounds as if I believe the New England Patriots did, in fact, intentionally deflate game balls to gain a competitive advantage – then good! That means my writing has gotten better because I do.