Well, it is that time of year again: The Patriots have found themselves embroiled in yet another scandal. Following their 45-7 victory over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, concerns were raised that some of the Patriots’ footballs may have been under-inflated, a claim that was later confirmed when it was reported that 11 out of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots were indeed under-inflated during the first half of the game.
Being called “Ballghazi” by some and “DeflateGate” by others, this is very possibly the stupidest scandal to emerge in the NFL in several seasons, for a number of reasons.
There is next to no evidence the Patriots deflated their balls intentionally, and even if they have, this story has been blown completely out of proportion, taking away from the coverage of the only thing that should matter in the NFL right now: The Super Bowl.
By far the biggest reason this scandal is a non-issue is that playing with the under-inflated balls gave the Patriots no advantage over the Indianapolis Colts. There was some speculation early on that the deflated balls may have provided a significant advantage to the Patriots, with NPR reporting that under-inflated balls would be easier to grip in cold or wet weather. However, this was clearly not the case during the actual game, where they only used the under-inflated balls during the first half and went 17-7. Officials reflated the balls following a tip from the Colts’ equipment manager.
During the second half, with the balls at regulation
PSI, the Patriots went 28-0. The speculation that it afforded the Patriots a major advantage was furthered by a WEEI radio interview with Tom Brady from November 2011, where Brady said, “When Gronk scores [...] he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball. I love that, because I like the deflated ball.” This preference of Brady’s is by no means true of every quarterback, as Aaron Rodgers (who one may recall was by far the best quarterback of the season) actually prefers his balls over-inflated. Thus, anyone calling for the Patriots to be thrown out of the Super Bowl or for a replay of the game has absolutely no clue what they are talking about. On top of the logistical issues that would present, even Colts player Dwayne Allen has admitted that “[The Patriots] could have played with soap for balls and beat us.” Now all that does not necessarily matter if it can be proven that the Patriots did intentionally cheat. After all, it is not the effectiveness of the cheating that is really the issue, it is whether they did it at all, and if they did, they should receive punishment (probably in the form of lost draft picks). As time goes on however, it seems less and less likely that the Patriots did deflate the balls intentionally. One of the most seemingly damning pieces of evidence against the Patriots is that while 11 out of 12 of the Patriots’ balls were under regulation, all of the Colts’ balls were legal. This, however, can be explained. As previously established, Brady does prefer balls as deflated as possible, which means it is extremely likely that the balls were at the regulation minimum of 12.5 PSI. That means that any deflation at
all would put them under the legal limit. Meanwhile, if the Colts’ balls were toward the higher end of that range, they could have deflated just as much but still remained within the legal limit. The initial report from ESPN indicated that the balls were 2 pounds under the legal limit, but if that was being measured from the maximum PSI allowed, that could merely be a misrepresentation of the evidence.
Further, on the Thursday after the game, Belichick finally gave his side of the story: A firm denial of any intentional wrongdoing. He noted that he had learned more about air pressure in footballs during the three days after the game than in his entire coaching career, further asserting that, “I can tell you in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure. That is
not a subject I’ve ever brought up.” He also noted that in practices, he intentionally tries to create difficult conditions, including ensuring the footballs are wet and cold at times. There is no reason to really express disbelief at Belichick’s claims. During “Spygate,” the only other cheating scandal the Patriots have faced in three decades, Belichick was very forthright about his actions, and never tried to hide anything, even before the Patriots were caught. “Spygate” may set a precedent for the Patriots as cheaters, but it does not set one for the Patriots as liars. Brady, in a press conference a few hours after Belichick’s, echoed his coach’s sentiments, even remarking that he did not notice the balls were under-inflated. To accuse Brady of lying about that, one must also call into question why the officials did not notice it either (it was the Colts’ equipment manager who brought the issue up before the half).
The most important thing to keep in mind is that if it were not the Patriots, this would not even be a story. ESPN’s NFL coverage has been almost exclusively about this scandal, and it has completely redirected the conversation away from the biggest television and sporting event of the year: The Super Bowl. In fact, it is hard to believe the Super Bowl is less than a week away, given the fact that there has been so little speculation about that game.
This is a non-issue that is taking attention away from what is assuredly going to be a very, very good game. Even if this is a story that does matter, it can wait until after the Super Bowl, because right now, there are more important things to talk about.