Monday, January 26, 2015

Deflategate - New England Patriots, Footballs & Ethics - Did They Really Cheat?

A Football Dream - Stallion Springs, California
This is a photography blog--not a football blog--so why am I writing this post? I'll be honest: hits for this site, the biggest television event in America will be next Sunday, and I'm a New England Patriots fan. I'll step outside my usual boundaries for this article.

In case you don't know (and who at this point doesn't know?) the New England Patriots, after their decisive victory over the Indianapolis Colts, were accused of deflating their footballs. The supposed reason for doing this was so they'd have better grip while playing in the rain.

The NFL has a clear rule for the inflation levels of footballs: 12.5-13.5 PSI. Each team submits 24 footballs (12 primary and 12 backup), plus some specifically for the kicking game. The teams submit these footballs two hours prior to the start of the game and an official checks their inflation levels. If they find the balls under-inflated they are supposed to add air to bring them to standards, and if they find them over-inflated they're supposed to let air out. Who knew?

Anyway, the balls were measured prior to the game and then again at halftime, and 11 of the 12 primary balls were found to be under-inflated (by 2 PSI, a leaked report claimed). They were correctly inflated at the beginning of the game and were incorrectly at halftime. So someone must have tiptoed into wherever the balls were kept and let some of the air out, right?

That's what ESPN and all of the other sports networks would have liked everyone to believe. It's been relentless. "Liars! Cheats!" They've yelled. It has been completely over-the-top, much like when The Fonz jumped the shark on Happy Days.

Then Bill Belichick came out and said that the team conducted all sorts of tests (scientific-sounding tests) and concluded that Mother Nature is who cheated, not the team. The under-inflated balls can be explained by physics.

People who actually know a thing or two about this came out and said that Belichick's explanation is indeed reasonable. HeadSmart Labs explains it pretty simply in the video below.

Science explains how footballs can deflate on their own. Nobody had to deflate the footballs because that's what they were going to do in this game no matter what. Had the Patriots inflated their footballs to the maximum allowed PSI, they might have remained within the limits during the game. But they inflated their footballs to the minimum, so they stood no chance.

The plot thickens, though. Apparently it was someone at the New York Jets who told the NFL that the Patriots use under-inflated footballs. The Jets and Patriots are rivals, but more importantly the Patriots had just filed paperwork against the Jets for illegally tampering with a player (trying to get a player to play for their team while still under contract with another team, which is against the rules). It's clearly a tit-for-tat. The Colts played along too, still embarrassed from their crushing defeat.

And then another (leaked) report comes out that says only one of the 12 footballs was found to be near 2 PSI under-inflated, ten were about 1 PSI under-inflated and one was correctly inflated. So it isn't quite what was initially reported.

Some have wondered why there is a discrepancy from ball-to-ball, and a big part may be explained by how much each football was used and how much exposure each had to the rain. Even so, each ball is unique and no two balls will deflate exactly the same. Why were the 12 backup footballs found correctly inflated at halftime? Because they had not yet been exposed to the colder temperatures and rain.

Another claim is that the Colts footballs were not found to be under-inflated. But the NFL has said nothing about the Colts footballs. Nobody knows what PSI they were initially inflated to or what they were found to be at halftime, if they were even measured at halftime. So no one knows--it is simply speculation.

I've also heard some say that the Patriot's quarterback, Tom Brady, should have been able to tell if a football was under-inflated just by touching it. But that's just ridiculous. The difference in "give" that a football under-inflated by 1 PSI has is so minimal it's tough to tell when you are comparing two footballs side-by-side (let along judging one ball by itself). At 2 PSI it is easier to tell the difference, but only one ball was found to be under-inflated by that much and we have no idea when and how much that ball was used. Besides that, if Mother Nature was indeed responsible, the footballs would have slowly deflated over time, making it even more difficult to tell.

The sports media has been horrendous throughout all of this. They've made all sorts of accusations without any proof whatsoever. They are clearly biased. They don't want to consider other explanations. The Patriots cheated and then lied about it, end of story.

But it's not the end of the story. It's not likely the story at all. And unless the NFL comes out with a video tape showing someone tampering with the footballs, the sports media is going to lose a lot of credibility. Honestly, they look like fools right now.

And the NFL is treading on thin ice, too. Supposedly the Jets tipped them off prior to the game. If the NFL knew the Patriots were cheating, why knowingly let them cheat for half a game? A playoff game, no less! That does nothing for the "integrity of the game." Yet if the NFL says that they found no evidence of cheating, why allow all of this nonsense to happen before the biggest game of the year? Either way, the NFL comes across as handling this situation wrong from the start.

And why the big deal over any of this? Did the under-inflated footballs have any bearing on the outcome of the game? No. In fact, the Patriots did even better when using the 12 backup footballs in the second half. If anything, an argument can be made that the under-inflated footballs actually made them play worse.

Besides that, nobody seems to care that Brad Johnson once tampered with footballs for the Super Bowl, or that the Green Bay Packers routinely submit over-inflated footballs, or that the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers were caught on camera breaking a rule regarding footballs earlier this season. Those things haven't gained any attention, yet no one will stop talking about "Deflategate."

My only explanation is that people are tired of the New England Patriots winning. They don't want to see them in the Super Bowl. The team has had too much success for too long. It's time for some other teams to have the spotlight for awhile. And if they won't stop winning, then they'll be brought down to size some other way.

This whole thing is quite ridiculous. It's been overblown to such a degree that it is basically a joke now. And until the NFL shares the findings of their investigation, everything is pure speculation. We know nothing, really, other than some footballs were under-inflated and that Mother Nature had something to do with it and quite possibly everything to do with it.

Beyond that, nothing else is sure.  

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