The NFL is changing the procedures that failed to catch the Patriots in Deflategate

The NFL told its officials there will be new procedures for how game balls are handled and tested during the 2015 season, according Mike Pereira of Fox Sports, the former vice president of officiating in the National Football League.

The footballs will still be inflated within a range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square-inch (PSI) however, there will several important changes:

  • The referee will now designate two members of his crew to inspect the footballs prior to the game. Last season, the referee was the only person who conducted the inspection.
  • Each football will be numbered prior to the game and the measured PSIs will be recorded for each ball.
  • If a football is measured to have a PSI below 12.5 or above 13.5, it will be adjusted to 13.0 PSI. Previously, there was no specific target for the adjustment.
  • During randomly selected games, the game balls will be collected at halftime and their PSIs will be remeasured and the results recorded.

By making these changes, the NFL seems to be acknowledging that the previous procedures for inspecting the footballs was inadequate. This may be important because these are the very procedures used in Deflategate to bust the New England Patriots for using deflated footballs in the AFC Championship game.

According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, these new procedures “undermine” Brady’s 4-game suspension. From his article on Monday:

For Brady, however, each change can be viewed as a variable that casts doubt on culpability. Consider:

  • The NFL has now acknowledged that it’s important to know the exact pregame inflation of each football. Brady was suspended without it.
  • The league admits that security surrounding footballs needed to be improved. Proof of Brady’s guilt was based in part on a Patriots employee taking game footballs into a bathroom during pregame warm-ups.
  • The NFL knows now that there should be a detailed process for checking compliance at halftime and after the game. Brady’s suspension was rooted in an unprecedented and chaotic halftime scene at the AFC Championship Game where two separate needles were used to test some footballs before time ran out.
  • The league has recognised, in effect, that its previous approach was lacking. Brady has been suspended for participation in a scheme with little of the documentation and process the NFL now considers essential.”

The flip-side to this argument is that the NFL punished Brady based on the procedures and rules that were in place at the time. Like any set of rules, on the field or off, the league is simply learning and evolving and that the new rules and procedures can’t be retroactively applied.

The NFL can also argue that the measurements were only part of the evidence against Brady.

Still, considering the timing of these changes, after Brady’s appeal but with the final ruling still pending, it is hard not to look at these changes as something of an admission that the original investigation was at least partially flawed.

We have reached out to the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association for comment and will update when we hear back.

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