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NFL blows chance to fully understand football air pressure


It was clear when the NFL decided only to randomly check the PSI of game balls in 2015 that the league had no interest in the kind of comprehensive study that would allow the league to understand a phenomenon it apparently hadn’t even considered before January of 2015: How air pressure behaves in footballs during games. It’s now clear that the NFL has no interest in developing any understanding at all as to how air pressure works.

Instead, the objective is to catch more cheaters.

The statements made by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday confirmed the message he sent in October regarding the periodic testing of footballs during games. It’s not about understanding the science, it’s about enforcing the rules.

The disclosure from Goodell, coming three days before his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference, most likely means that there will be no summaries or other data released by the league regarding the 2015 measurements. Instead, by declaring that no violations were detected in 2015, Goodell turned the entire exercise into a pass/fail exam, with all teams passing.

It’s not surprising, given that a comprehensive study would have clarified the extent of the league’s failure regarding #DeflateGate, where the league blended troubling text messages generated well before the Colts-Patriots AFC title game with numbers that constituted, without consideration of the Ideal Gas Law, evidence of tampering into a conclusion that it was more likely than not that cheating happened that day. Full analysis of the PSI reading of all balls during all of the 333 preseason, regular-season, and postseason 2015 games quite possibly would have led to the conclusion that Ted Wells and company showed have reached in May: That the evidence as to whether the Patriots tampered with the footballs prior to the AFC title game is inconclusive at best.

So instead of trying to better understand how and why #DeflateGate went off the rails, the league set up an effort to check from time to time whether footballs remained within the approved range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI. Surely, there were occasions when the balls strayed beyond those limits, especially when the Seahawks and Vikings played in arctic conditions last month. What formulas were used to determine whether the footballs were naturally or unnaturally deflated? And would those formulas, if applied to the outdoor conditions during the Colts-Patriots AFC title game, have resulted in expected PSI measurements comparable to the actual measurements generated that day by either or both of the two pressure gauges used?

Basically, the league found a way to create the impression that it has created a system for checking footballs without creating evidence that could have exonerated the Patriots, or at worst shown that Wells and his investigators failed to parlay their multi-million-dollar fee into a cracking of the case.

A full and complete analysis of the footballs in 2015 may have helped the league get to the truth. Which may have prompted the league to restore New England’s draft-pick penalty and rescind its fine. Which could be the main reason why the NFL opted not to learn everything there was to learn about PSI behavior during the 2015 season.