Deflategate Explained; Lessons From An Old Audi

On Sunday January, 18, 2014 the New England Patriots trounced the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFL Conference Championship Game that determined which of them would play in the Super Bowl. Such a drubbing promoted claims of cheating to alleviate the sense of inadequacy such a defeat engenders in the vanquished. Furthermore, New England’s Coach Belichick (and Tom Brady, to a lesser degree) is an easy target as he is known to have played loose with the rules before.

The claim is that Belichick, or some designee, inflated the balls 2 lbs below the 12.5-13.5 psi required under the rules. Apparently, such under-inflation produces a ball that is easier to grip in colder or wetter conditions. The Patriot’s scheme, it is said, was to make it easier for Tom Brady to pass the ball, but it seems Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck also benefitted from the softer ball as his Colts scored their touchdown in the second quarter with the softer ball. that presumes the Colts balls were deflated as well. Nevertheless, both teams played with legal balls in the second half.
In fact, after the properly inflated balls entered the game in the second half, the Colts were shut down and the Patriots scored 21 points in the third period alone.

The pressure in a football, a tire, or balloon, for that matter, is a relative figure that relates to pounds per square inch over the relevant atmospheric pressure;  more air in New Orleans, less in Denver. Also, temperature has significant inluence over PSI. Pressure goes up in the heat and down in the cold.
So how does this relate to my old Audi, which happens to have been a 1983 5000 Turbo, a magnificant car? However, this car had mag wheels that were impacted by cold to a high deegree that resulted in flat tires in extreme colld. This was due to the loss of tire pressure holding the tire to the shrinking wheel. On cold days the first year I had the car, and I mean -20 f cold,  I would find a tire flat at the worst time, such as after leaving a restaurant at 10:00PM. Changing the tire was a challenge. To avoid such dilemma, I learned that for each ten degree drop in temperature, I could expect a 1 pound drop in tire pressure. This is not a huge problem unless the tire/wheel combination didn’t work well together, as was the case with my car. I just over-inflated the tires.

The rule here, however, gets to the “deflategate” issue. If the balls were inflated in a 72 degree in a locker room and then were moved to a 50 degree field, maybe a 1 to 2 pound change could occur. If the Patriots actually preferred the 12.5 psi pressure, then the ball may read 11.5 later, or 10.5, which it was due entirely to temperature.  The effect on play, however, would be positive for both teams as it seems the softer ball is easier to handle on cold, wet conditions, as it was in Foxboro that Sunday evening. Maybe the NFL should adopt inflation rules for different weather conditions, softer for wetter, for example.

I play tennis in the North, so that means lots of early and late season matches in cold weather. I love hitting the ball then as it doesn’t fly long. I can swing with impunity and it stays inside the lines, a beautiful thing! Now, with the knowledge gained from “deflategate,” I can blame long shots in August on the weather. (Tennis balls are manufactured with 14lbs of pressure.)

Back to the NFL. Each team provides 12 balls, or maybe 20, for the game. These balls are all “broken in” by equipment men who bang them around so that they soften to the touch. (The same process takes place in the NBA, by the way) The league also has 8 balls sent directly from the manufacturer to the game officials at the stadium for kicking, not to be adulterated by the the teams. (My high school, had one “game ball” that was kept in the coach’s office during the week, only to be used on Friday!)

So, after considering the evidence, “deflategate” is much ado about nothing and is merely a conjured story to fill the dull week between the conference chamionship game and the Super Bowl next week. It is also designed to give some comfort to the Indianapolis Colts who got their butts kicked by the vastly superior Patriots in Foxboro that Sunday evening. Better to blame the ball than recognize your own lack of skill. Enough said.