As the New England Patriots deflated ball scandal continues to pick up steam, NFL experts, writers, and obsessives are wrangling with one key question: How did the balls got deflated?
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots were using on offence were found to be underinflated.
By rule NFL balls have to be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. The balls New England used were two pounds per square inch below the legal minimum, which is a significant amount.
According to Mike Florio of NBC’s ProFootballTalk, the balls were legal when the referees weighed them two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. Under the NFL’s procedures, the referees hang on to the balls after they are tested and only hand them over to the ball attendant on the sidelines right before the game starts.
Somewhere between the pregame weight test and the point at which the NFL investigators stepped in, the balls in question lost two PSI of air pressure.
According to Bob Glauber of Newsday, the scandal started when Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass early in the second quarter. Glauber reports that Jackson gave the ball to an equipment manager, who noticed that the ball felt underinflated and passed word up the chain of command.
Under orders from the league, the referees took a ball out of play on New England’s first drive of the second half, and eventually found that 11 of 12 balls were underinflated.
The most sinister explanation is that the Patriots somehow took the balls after they were given to the ball attendant right before kick off and let some air out of them. This presupposes a conspiracy, and the NFL would need hard evidence to conclude that this is what happened.
But it’s at least plausible. The Patriots have a history of bending the rules to their breaking point to gain a competitive advantage. In addition, some are saying that teams doctoring footballs is as common in the NFL as pitchers doctors baseballs is in MLB:
Every team tampers with the footballs. Ask any Qb In the league, this is ridiculous!!
— Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) January 21, 2015
Former Tampa Bay Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson openly admitted to paying “some guys” $US7,500 to make footballs easier to grip before the Super Bowl. So maybe this sort of thing happens all the time.
It’s possible that the Patriots were just taking a common practice to a new level.
And if you were wondering how easy it is to take air out of a ball, the answer is it’s pretty easy with any makeshift tool (via SportsOnEarth):
There’s also a group of people who are trying to argue that the balls could have deflated on their own because of the cold temperature.
From Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:
“Goodyear experts explain that air pressure in a tire typically goes down 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change.”
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) January 21, 2015
So let’s say they inflate the balls at 72 degrees, and then by halftime it’s 48 degrees. Maybe the ball naturally deflated?
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) January 21, 2015
Ravens coach John Harbaugh seemed to bolster this theory when told ESPN that the cold caused the kicking balls to deflate a bit during his game in New England a week earlier.
But real scientists are starting to debunk the cold-weather theory. Boston College physics profession Michael J. Naughton ran the maths and found that the cold couldn’t account for a 2 PSI dip in pressure:
“The pressure loss due to the temperature alone cannot be the issue in my mind,” said BC physics professor Michael J. Naughton, after plugging temperature data into a formula that calculates pressure loss. “If the footballs were notably lower pressure, then the only way it could have happened was if someone went in and stuck a needle in the ball and let two-thirds of the gas out, which means it is now up to the NFL to follow the chain of command — but no logical physics can explain the kind of pressure loss they’re talking about.”
You know you have a good sports scandal on your hands when the world-renowned physicists get involved.
The mystery here is clear: 12 footballs of legal weight were approved by the referee 135 minutes before kickoff. Hours later, after complaints from the opposing team, 11 of them had lost a significant amount of air pressure. How?
Is it unusual for footballs lose air pressure on their own over the course of a game? Who had access to the balls once the referees let them out of their sights? Were the Colts balls light too? Was there a faulty pressure gauge involved?!
How exactly the ball lost two PSI of air pressure is the key to the entire scandal, and right now there’s still a lot we don’t know, which only adds to the chaos.
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