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.

31 thoughts on “Deflategate Explained; Lessons From An Old Audi

  1. Clark, I don’t hear the Colts squawking about the balls, do you? Are they blaming the loss on the footballs? I admired your father, Calvin, for his baseball acumen. It is too bad that that acemen he gave to you about baseball did not transfer to football.

      • It is indeed true. Tom Brady and Eli Manning lead a group of QBs to get the rules changed so that each team brings and uses their own 12 balls. Both teams’ balls met spec at the ref’s pre-game inspection. 11 of 12 Pats’ balls failed a post-game inspection, and all were at the same psi. None of the Colts’ balls failed post-game inspection, and all were at the same psi noted at the inspection. All were subjected to the same game conditions, and it is doubtful that the pre-game condition for each team were such that a meaningful differential occurred.

        Tampering is certainly something to suspect at this point. But all is circumstantial.
        And Belichek’s explanation doesn’t hold scientific air…

      • Clark:

        You are a day late and a dollar short on the “deflategate” story. Each team supplies its own footballs. (12 for use in the game and 12 for backup) At half time all the footballs were checked. 11 of the 12 slated for use in the game by the Patriots,were 2 psi low. The backup footballs were within pressure specifications. All the footballs were re-inflated to the proper pressure and were re-checked after the game. None measured out of PSI limits.

        To answer the obvious question, there is a reason why the Patriots prefer a deflated football. It cuts down enormously on fumbling. See the following data analysis:

        The data suggests this is SOP for the Patriots starting in 2007.


    • Apparently beakus is correct and the footballs the Colts used in the AFC Championship were indeed different. In addition, their footballs were measured to be within regulation PSI. However what hasn’t been made public yet is the actual measurements of all the game balls (Patriots and Colts). There have been recent rumors that the ball intercepted by the Colts at the end of the second half was the only one to be 2 psi below regulation. The other 10 were closer to 1 psi below.

      Moreover we would need to know what the PSI measurements of the Colts balls were when the officials measured them prior to the start of the game. Since Brady is known to prefer balls near the lower range of the 12.5-13.5 psi regulation, and Aaron Rogers for example is known to prefer balls higher than 13.5 psi were it allowed, it’s possible that Andrew Luck may have preferred something near the upper range of 13.5. If both sets of balls were subject to weather condition related loss of air pressure, the Colts balls (if starting from my speculated higher pressure) might have settled down near the bottom of the regulation range, whereas the Patriots balls may have settled below regulation. Again we need to know these details.

      My personal theory is that this is non-scandal and that something of the sort I described above is at play. The story was initially started by leaks within the Colts and Ravens organizations (possibly out of concern for fair play, but just as possibly to damage and distract the Patriots going into the Superbowl). The ongoing madness surrounding it is being driven by the sports media looking for stories during the slow week before the Pro Bowl, and an angry fan base convinced that the Patriots are perennial cheaters. I find it interesting that the NFL is keeping so many details of the investigation close (perhaps standard procedure) AND that they have yet to interview Tom Brady concerning the matter. The latter point especially suggests that the NFL is not completely serious about the investigation, and is using the so called scandal to add to the already over-the-top hype of the upcoming Superbowl.

  2. Hey Clark: Each team provides and plays with their own balls, which are checked by the Officials 2 hours prior to the kick off. Indy’s offense did not play with the balls that have been alleged to be under-inflated, hence your contention that Indy scored in the second quarter with one of the questionable balls is incorrect.
    Interestingly enough, no one ask asked if the NFL also checked the balls on the Indy sideline, which could lend evidence to your theory

  3. Pingback: Dinocrat » Blog Archive » Glavin!

  4. Colts did not use Patriots balls – each team brings their own. And before you convince yourself that none of this matters, read the analysis linked below. It shows the Patriots’ have racked up an amazing, incredible record for holding on to the ball – far, far better than any other NFL team over the last 5 years. And that includes all those teams that play in nice warm domes while the Patriots are not fumbling even in their wet, cold, open stadium. Maybe its just their talent, but the chances of a team doing so much better than its competitors in keeping possession of the ball have been calculated at less than one in 16,000 instances. Not impossible – and not necessarily due solely to using deflated balls – but its still worth thinking about. Here’s the article:

  5. High school physics can be applied here: PV=nRT
    P is pressure. V, n and R are constant in this case. T is temperature in Kelvin.
    If the ball was inflated to 12.5 psi at 72 F (295 K), then
    12 psi at 50 F (283 K)
    11.5 psi at 28 F (271 K)

    They didn’t need to cheat, but they didn’t know that in advance, did they?

  6. The change in pressure is proportional to the change in absolute temperature. The pressure inside the ball is about 13+14.7=27.7 pounds per square inch absolute or psia. If the temperature actually changed from 72 F (or, converting to absolute temperature, 532 R) to 50 F (or 510 R), the pressure should have fallen to 27.7 psia x 510 R / 532 R = 26.6 psia or 11.9 psig. The above is for an ideal gas, and air is an ideal gas at these conditions.

  7. Did you really just write an entire article on Deflategate largely absolving the Patriots of any wrongdoing without realizing that both teams did not use the same set of footballs on offense? This point has been covered repeatedly in the media over the last week. While I am not a fan of either team, this fact alone renders your article completely worthless.

  8. This has to be the least informed explanation of the situation out there.

    Each team brings their own 12 footballs. This has happened since 2007 when, surpise!, Tom Brady lobbied for the ability of each team to provide their own.

    So, no, the colts didn’t use the deflated balls. And, the colts footballs were NOT found to be under inflated. So, now you need to explain why the temperature drop exclusively affected the Pats. Occums Razor, baby.

    Also, football games aren’t played in “periods”. They’re played in quarters.

  9. During Brady’s press conference I was listening as I drove home and heard the reporters ask over and over, did he not notice the difference in the weight of the balls? It took me a while but I realized they thought that 1-2 pounds of air pressure equated to 1-2 pounds of weight!!! They did not realize that a pound of inflation weighs about as much as a one dollar bill. Go figure.

  10. “Goodyear says that an average auto tire can lose up to 2 pounds of pressure for a 10 degree drop in temperature.”

    Yes, the higher the tire pressure the closer this statement comes to the truth. At 40 PSI a 10 degree Celsius drop from 31 C to 21 C does cause a 2 PSI drop in pressure.

    However at lower pressure it takes a larger temperature swing to cause a 2 PSI drop in pressure. It’s already been calculated that the footballs in question needed to be inflated to 12.5 PSI at 147 F to have a 10.5 PSI reading in a 50 F environment.

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