Reprinted from Consortium News
Perhaps New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did conspire with two locker room attendants to deflate footballs below the minimum permissible levels in a big game, but the report by NFL investigator Ted Wells reads more like a prosecutor's brief than a balanced presentation of the facts as he obscures the collapse of one principal argument for believing in Brady's guilt.
A key assertion by people accusing Brady was that it made no sense that the footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game last January -- when tested at halftime -- would have lost significantly more air pressure than those used by their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts. But scientists hired by the NFL discovered that measurements varied sharply depending on when at halftime the balls were tested.
Since the Colts were alleging that the pressure of one Patriot football that had been intercepted before halftime weighed below the minimum level of 12.5 pounds per square inch, NFL officials rushed all 11 remaining Patriot game balls into the referees' locker room and began testing them, finding the balls to be significantly below the 12.5 psi minimum where they were set before the game began. The referees then added air pressure to bring the balls back to legal standards.
After testing the Patriots' balls, NFL officials turned to the Colts' footballs, but only had time to test four before the 13.5-minute halftime break ended and the balls had to be returned to the sidelines for the second half.
Of the Colts' four tested balls, all had lost air pressure when compared to the 13.0 psi that Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck preferred but not as much as the Patriots' balls had. However, Exponent scientists noted that much -- and possibly all -- of that discrepancy could be explained by the fact the Colts' balls were tested toward the end of halftime.
Also, one of the four measurements was apparently taken down incorrectly, leaving only three reliable halftime tests on the Colts' balls.
Further uncertainty was injected by the fact that the two gauges used by NFL officials at halftime recorded different measurements, off by a third to nearly one-half psi, and it wasn't clear which gauge was used to test the balls before the game. According to Exponent, the lower of the two gauges -- referred to in the report as the "non-logo gauge" -- was the accurate gauge and was most likely used by referee Walt Anderson in his pre-game measurements.
Colts' Underinflated Balls
Ironically, however, if the data from the accurate gauge is used, all three Colts' balls were themselves underinflated, averaging 12.27 psi, thus below the 12.5 psi minimum, but nevertheless those balls were allowed back in the game for the second half.
At the end of the game, four balls from the Colts and four from the Patriots were tested again. Three of the four Colts' balls were underinflated while none of the Pats' balls were. In other words, while the Patriots' footballs were deflated in the first half, the Colts' balls were deflated in both the first half and second half.
Another possible factor why the Pats' balls tested relatively lower in psi could have been the way the balls were prepared before the game. The Pats' balls were rubbed down to remove any slickness while the Colts' balls were left slicker or more water resistant. One of the findings by the Exponent scientists was that wetter balls recovered their psi more slowly than drier balls when brought into a climate-controlled environment.
It also turns out that an initial claim by an NFL official in a letter to the Patriots -- that one of the Pats' balls had been measured at 10.1 psi, 2.4 psi below the minimum, and that the Colts' balls all met specifications -- was false. The letter stated: "In fact, one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12 to 13 psi. In contrast, each of the Colts' game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above."
In excusing these errors, Wells wrote that the NFL official who wrote the letter drafted it "based on communications with colleagues with first-hand knowledge of events that had taken place at Gillette Stadium. In fact, none of the Patriots game balls measured 10.1 psi when they were tested at halftime. We believe that there was an inadvertent error in communication of the results "
"We also note that the statement in the letter about the Colts measurements did not make clear that the Colts game balls inspected met the requirements on at least one of the two gauges used to measure the balls." However, Wells does not note here that the one gauge in which the Colts' balls met specifications was the inaccurate one.
Though the errors in the NFL's letter were almost surely innocent, the media stampede that these initial claims helped set off clearly shaped the PR environment in which the Wells investigation was conducted. The NFL would have looked foolish if Wells had simply concluded that the so-called "deflategate scandal" had been just a lot of hot air -- or cold.