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Transcript proves NFL didn’t know air pressure could drop naturally

I’ve believed throughout the #DeflateGate saga that league-office employees who were observing the halftime testing of the footballs during the AFC Championship Game presumed that the Patriots were cheating because their footballs all had air pressure below 12.5 PSI -- and because the league-office employees didn’t realize that, for scientific reasons, the air pressure inside a football drops in cold, wet conditions.

The testimony of NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent at Tom Brady’s appeal hearing confirms that theory.

Vincent explains at page 229 that Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson told Vincent and Mike Kensil in the second quarter of the game, “We are playing with a small ball.” That prompted Vincent to tell Kensil “we probably should look at testing all of the balls from both sidelines.”

The ensuing questions from page 231 confirm the lack of awareness of the notion that, on a cold day, balls that start a game at 12.5 PSI will go under that minimum permissible inflation level.

Question: “So prior to this game, okay, had you ever heard of the Ideal Gas Law?”

Vincent: “No sir.”

Question: “Do you know if anyone in the NFL Game-Day Operations had ever discussed the impact of the Ideal Gas Law in testing footballs?”

Vincent: “Not with me.”

Question: “You had never heard to that?”

Vincent: “Never.”

This exchange demonstrates the pre-existing mindset of Vincent and others: If the balls are at 12.5 PSI before the game, they should be at 12.5 at halftime. If they’re not, and if we have an accusation from the Colts that the Patriots take air out of footballs, tampering must be the explanation.

Vincent’s testimony also confirms the lack of sensitivity to the relevant scientific principles via the steps taken (and not taken) when testing the footballs at halftime. For example, the temperature of the officials’ locker room at the time of testing wasn’t recorded. Whether the balls were wet or dry wasn’t recorded. Neither was the specific time each ball was tested, an important point since the longer a ball is back inside a warmer room, the higher the PSI will be.

Most importantly, there’s no record of the sequence in which the balls were tested. It has been presumed that the 11 Patriots’ football were tested first -- and then re-filled with air -- before the Colts’ footballs were tested. This theory finds support via common sense, because the official version as explained in the Ted Wells report is that only four Colts’ footballs were tested because they ran out of time. (Some would say they stopped testing Colts’ footballs because three of four came in under 12.5 PSI on one of the two gauges used.)

Even after the testing occurred and the 11 Patriots’ footballs came in under 12.5 PSI, no one in the league office considered the dynamic that causes air pressure in car tires to drop in the winter.

At page 238, Vincent explains that he spoke to NFL senior V.P. Dave Gardi about the situation after the game, telling him “because the Patriots had eleven game balls that were under compliance, that this may -- we may need to do potential further investigation.” Vincent said that “Dave and I and others on our staff, we came to the conclusion that we probably need to do some additional follow-up.”

“But at that time, you didn’t know that some of the reduction could happen just because or cold or wetness or other factors, right?” Jeffrey Kessler asked Vincent. “That just wasn’t something you were aware of, correct?”

“I didn’t include science, no, sir,” Vincent said.

With no one considering science, the initial assumption became tampering, as exhibited by the tone and content of Gardi’s January 19 letter to the Patriots.

As this case continues to unfold, the errors in Gardi’s initial letter become more glaring.

“In fact, one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 psi,” Gardi wrote, a clear and obvious misstatement of fact that reinforces the presumption of tampering. And while some have explained away his contention that “each of the Colts’ game balls that was inspected met the requirement set forth above” by pointing out that on one of the two gauges the Colts’ balls were in compliance, Gardi’s letter prefaces that statement by pointing out that “each ball” was “inspected twice with different gauges.”

If, instead of launching that same night an investigation premised on proving that the Patriots had cheated someone had considered the notion that perhaps air pressure changes during games played in the elements, and if someone had immediately retained a scientist to examine the raw numbers under the conditions at Gillette Stadium that night, there’s a good chance that the conclusion would have been that the raw data is inconclusive at best on whether there was tampering.

But the early presumption -- fueled by incorrect information given by the NFL to the Patriots and false numbers leaked by the NFL to ESPN -- was that tampering had happened. So science became an afterthought, an inconvenience to be dismissed in the official report that found “more probable than not” evidence of cheating instead of what it should have been: An explanation considered seriously and thoroughly by the league office before pointing a finger at one of the 32 franchises it serves.