Shortly after the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45 to 7 in the AFC Championship Game on 18 January 2015, rumors started circulating that the Patriots had gained an advantage by providing under-inflated footballs for game use. While that charge has not yet been proved, the NFL has said that they have opened an investigation into the matter.


Pro Football Talk reported on 19 January 2015 that several footballs were removed from the sidelines of the AFC Championship game after officials determined that the footballs did not meet league requirements:



Section 1: BALL DIMENSIONS

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.

Section 2: BALL SUPPLY

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.


Footballs are periodically inspected by officials during games and according to NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino “it’s not unheard of for a ball to be removed from circulation and then tested during the week for whatever issue there was.”

Former NFL official Jim Daopoulos said that numerous factors could cause a football to deflate during a game:


“Officials check balls as they go into the game, and if the ball doesn’t feel perfect, they can throw it out. There is always the possibility that balls can lose air due to the conditions.”

If the NFL determines that the New England Patriots intentionally deflated the balls to gain an advantage over the Indianapolis Colts, the team could face a $25,000 fine:



Once the balls have left the locker room, no one, including players, equipment managers, ball boys, and coaches, is allowed to alter the footballs in any way. If any individual alters the footballs, or if a non-approved ball is used in the game, the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000.

New England quarterback Tom Brady said that the accusations were ridiculous:



I think I’ve heard it all at this point … it’s ridiculous. That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.

Subsequent reports indicated that the league’s initial determination was that 11 of the 12 balls provided by the Patriots were underinflated:



According to an NFL letter about the investigation, the Patriots were informed that the league’s initial findings indicated that the game balls did not meet specifications (inflation of 12½ to 13½ pounds). The league inspected each of the Patriots’ 12 game balls twice at halftime, using different pressure gauges, and found footballs that were not properly inflated.

According to ESPN, 11 of the 12 game balls were found to be underinflated by about 2 pounds each.

The investigation is still on-going. Now that the league has determined the footballs were under-inflated, the investigation will center on how it happened.


Other accounts noted, though, that sneaking underinflated footballs into an NFL game was likely a much more difficult and complicated process than might be assumed:



If the New England Patriots intentionally deflated footballs used in Sunday’s AFC championship win over the Indianapolis Colts, it wouldn’t have been as easy to pull off as it might seem.

NFL rules require each team to provide 12 primary balls to the referee for testing 2 hours, 15 minutes before kickoff to ensure they fall between the proper inflation limits of 12½ to 13½ pounds per square inch. The home team also must provide 12 backup balls, and the visiting team has the option to provide 12 more for outdoor games.

The referee “shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications” and the balls “remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game,” according to Rule 2, Section 1.

A person with intimate knowledge of the process [said] the ball attendant is a uniformed official — generally the same person each week at a given stadium — who comes to the locker room to pick up the balls and takes them to the officials’ locker room for testing.

The ball attendant delivers the balls to the ball boys — usually four provided by the home team and two traveling with the visiting team — who make sure their quarterback’s preferred balls get into the game, said the person.

At halftime, the balls return to the officials’ locker room, the person said. So, if proper protocol is followed, the only opportunity to manipulate the balls is minutes before kickoff or during the game on the sideline, where there’s a risk of anyone in the stadium and dozens of TV cameras seeing it.

Asked how long it takes to change and measure the pressure of a football, the person said, “Ten seconds. But if they were all exactly 2 pounds under? It would be almost impossible to get them exactly all the same weight or the same psi.

“That, or you’d have to be really good at knowing exactly where to pull the needle. And then what if you take too much out? How are you going to pump it back up on the field? You can’t. You need a ball pump to do it. That’s what’s even more weird about it. Too many moving parts.”


Also, further reports noted that the underinflated footballs were swapped out at halftime and replaced with backup balls:



After the officials found that the majority of the balls used in the first half were below the acceptable PSI as mandated by the NFL, the backup balls were brought in. According to the source, the backup balls were tested and found to be at the correct levels, and subsequently put into play — just barely in time, as the second half already had started by the time the testing was completed. This is why the officials stopped play and swapped out the kicking ball on the first play from scrimmage of the second half.

Some sources noted that unless only the Patriots were using under-inflated footballs, the phenomenon should have benefited both teams:



Deflating footballs would theoretically have made it easier for Brady, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns, to throw and for his receivers to catch in the bad weather of Sunday’s game in Foxboro. But it also should have benefited Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck, who had a miserable game, completing 12 of 33 passes for a mere 126 yards.

However, others pointed out that game balls are supplied by both teams, not just the home team:



The investigation into whether the Patriots intentionally deflated the footballs in play in [the] AFC Championship game began when D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the second quarter.

Given that each team provides a dozen balls to game officials to use when it is on offense, the Colts might not have known anything was different about New England’s [footballs] barring the turnover. Ostensibly, a slightly deflated ball would be easier to grip and throw in rainy, windy conditions, as they were playing in Sunday night.


Last updated:   21 January 2015