Is Deflategate A Media Ploy?
Issue   |   Tue, 01/27/2015 - 20:41

This year’s NFL Conference Championship weekend was more exciting than most, with a thrilling comeback by the Seahawks and an emphatic blowout by the Patriots. Unfortunately, this weekend will also be remembered by yet another controversy. During the Colts-Patriots game, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted Tom Brady and handed the ball to his equipment manager. Soon afterwards, officials noticed that the Patriots’ footballs did not seem to be properly inflated and opted to use the Colts’ footballs for the rest of the game. A further investigation by the NFL found that 11 of the 12 Patriot game balls were underinflated by up to two pounds per square inch. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have denied any and all involvement with the under-inflated balls, and there is still no indication as to who altered them, if anybody. As there is no denying that the balls were under-inflated, the focus is now on whether these balls provided a substantial competitive advantage, and if so, how the Patriots should be punished for this transgression. The greater issue at hand, however, concerns the Patriots’ willingness to cheat in order to win.

The Patriots are hardly new to cheating scandals. In 2007, the NFL found Belichick guilty of videotaping the Jets’ defensive signals during a game. As a result, the NFL fined Belichick $500,000, fined the Patriots $250,000 and docked them their first round draft pick in the 2008 draft. This newest scandal indicates that the Patriots could be embroiled in a culture of cheating, no doubt spearheaded by Bill Belichick. Should this incident result in the firing or suspension of Bill Belichick?

While there is no doubt that this slight deflation of the ball would not have changed the outcome of the game, intentionally altering the football would still be a clear violation of the NFL rules. For a coach like Belichick, whose career is marked by several scandals, this could result in a crushing punishment. Furthermore, an asterisk could forever accompany the Patriots’ dynasty. However, so far there is no evidence that any intentional deflation occurred, and even some evidence that it didn’t. If it turns out that Deflategate is entirely a fabrication, it is the NFL, rather than the Patriots, that must be punished, as it would have once again turned a relative non-issue into a media firestorm. There are several reasons why “Deflategate” is very likely a bogus story.

First of all, there is little indication that the slightly deflated balls provide any competitive advantage. ESPN’s “Sport Science” conducted experiments on the deflated balls, and found that they traveled slower than fully inflated balls, and only weighed 1.5 grams less than fully inflated balls. The slower travel time would give defenders more time to make a play on the ball, rather than help the offense complete a pass. They also found that the average person could only press their fingers 1 millimeter deeper into the deflated balls. This is a minuscule difference, and one that could not make throwing or catching easier to an appreciable extent. Finally, “Sport Science” found that the rain added more than 10 times the amount of weight that the ball lost because of under-inflation. Thus, the deflation of the football only had one tenth of the effect that the rain did. When combined, these findings show that the slight deflation of the Patriots’ footballs did not and could not have had drastic effects on the gameplay. Soon after releasing this video, ESPN pulled it, presumably because it took the air right out of Deflategate. By exaggerating the effects that a slightly deflated ball would have, the NFL played a huge part in making this a story warranting national news coverage.

Another reason why Deflategate is not an important issue is that there is evidence that other teams also engage in the practice. Aaron Rodgers, star quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, has stated that his team overinflates his footballs, as that is how he prefers them. Different quarterbacks like their footballs inflated to different levels. During the games however, referees occasionally take air out the Packers’ footballs. Rodgers disagrees with this practice, as he believes that taking air out of the football is a disadvantage for him. He does, however, recognize that many quarterbacks prefer to throw flatter footballs. If the Packers aren’t punished for overinflating their footballs, there is no way the Patriots should be punished for deflating theirs. The NFL has to be fair in this situation, despite its attempts to catch the Patriots red-handed. The league executives must also consider the possibility that over or under inflating the game footballs is a widespread league practice.

In an effort to prove their innocence, the Patriots conducted a few experiments themselves. Bill Belichick presented these experiments during an unscheduled availability on Saturday afternoon. After stating that “at no time was there any intent whatsoever to try to compromise the integrity of the game or to gain an advantage,” Belichick offered his own explanation as to why the footballs came in underweight. He explained that the rubbing process that each football undergoes before the game was shown to increase the PSI, and that the weather and climate decreased the balls’ pressures by up to 1.5 PSI. In another effort to prove their innocence, the Patriots’ staff members had Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo test footballs of varying pressures. Both had difficulty discerning whether the football was correctly pressurized or not, even with differences of up to 2 PSI. These experiments indicate not only that the Patriots likely did nothing wrong, but also that the slight change in PSI would not make an appreciable difference in quarterback comfort. Once again, all signs point to Deflategate being just another NFL witch hunt.

Unfortunately, no matter what the NFL finds as a result of its investigation, the Patriots are already guilty by public opinion. This is no doubt a result of the NFL’s actions. If the Patriots are found innocent, the NFL must issue a formal apology, as the league executives responsible have further tarnished the Patriots’ reputation without evidence. Sources have confirmed that the Colts originally contacted the league about the Patriots under-inflating their balls as far back as this past November. If true, then the league’s recent actions must be considered much differently. Instead of warning the Patriots, the NFL decided it would be better to attempt to catch them red-handed. This is unacceptable, and unproductive. The purpose of the NFL executives is to fairly and efficiently run the most lucrative sports league in the world. Their recent actions have, however, indicated that they are more inclined to act as toddlers would in order to prove their points. While this situation has not been resolved, and may not be until the Superbowl is over, it is clear that once again, the NFL must examine and revise its priorities. While purposefully deflating footballs in order to obtain a competitive advantage cannot be condoned, the NFL has made it a much larger issue than it should be.