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Don’t let Deflategate tarnish the Patriots win

By: Nick Johns

deflategate

For the last few weeks there has been much commotion over the reported use of underinflated footballs by the New England Patriots in their 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. People have openly accused the Patriots of cheating and are calling for the NFL to hand down a harsh penalty to the team. And people are surely going to discredit the Patriots Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seahawks because of it.

But the truth is, to paraphrase The Rock, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THE BALLS WEIGHED!!!

I could point out that you can’t blame under-inflated balls for the Colts defense’s inability to tackle LeGarrette Blount, who saw 30 carries of 148 yards (4.9 y/c) and 3 touchdowns. I could tell you that according to Sports Illustrated, the Patriots’ footballs were only underinflated by about 1psi, and according to Dr. John Eric Goff, a sports physicist (who has a job I didn’t know existed but now I totally want) at Lynchburg College, this under-inflation could easily have been the result of the low temperatures on the field during the game. But the reality of the situation is that the Patriots didn’t technically break any rules.

The exact wording of the rule applying to the ball and its dimensions is as follows:

Rule 2 The Ball

Section 1 BALL DIMENSIONS

The Ball must be a “Wilson,” hand selected, bearing the signature of the Commissioner of the League, Roger Goodell.

The ball shall be made up of an inflated (12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds) urethane bladder enclosed in a pebble grained, leather case (natural tan color) without corrugations of any kind. It shall have the form of a prolate spheroid and the size and weight shall be: long axis, 11 to 11 1/4 inches; long circumference, 28 to 28 1/2 inches; short circumference, 21 to 21 1/4 inches; weight, 14 to 15 ounces.

The Referee shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications. A pump is to be furnished by the home club, and the balls shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.

Section 2 BALL SUPPLY

Each team will make 12 primary balls available for testing by the Referee two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game to meet League requirements. The home team will also make 12 backup balls available for testing in all stadiums. In addition, the visitors, at their discretion, may bring 12 backup balls to be tested by the Referee for games held in outdoor stadiums. For all games, eight new footballs, sealed in a special box and shipped by the manufacturer to the Referee, will be opened in the officials’ locker room two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game. These balls are to be specially marked by the Referee and used exclusively for the kicking game.

In the event a home team ball does not conform to specifications, or its supply is exhausted, the Referee shall secure a proper ball from the visitors and, failing that, use the best available ball. Any such circumstances must be reported to the Commissioner.

In case of rain or a wet, muddy, or slippery field, a playable ball shall be used at the request of the offensive team’s center. The Game Clock shall not stop for such action (unless undue delay occurs).

Note: It is the responsibility of the home team to furnish playable balls at all times by attendants from either side of the playing field.

According to the rule, the home team is responsible for providing playable balls. It seems that logically a ball not meeting the league’s specifications should not a playable ball, so therefore the Patriots did not meet their responsibility to provide playable balls. But that’s not what the rule says. The rule states that the referee is the sole judge as to whether or not a ball is playable. It wouldn’t matter if a shot of a pressure gauge showing that the ball was underinflated by 10 psi was shown on the Jumbotron, if the referee says the ball is a playable ball, the ball is a playable ball. In the AFC Championship game, the Patriots provided footballs that the referee deemed to be playable, so by the letter of the law no rules were broken.

But that’s only half the story. The Patriots did not technically break any rules, but people may still argue that this is the equivalent of the infamous blown pass interference call that may or may not have prevented the Detroit Lions from beating the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC wild card round. But these situations are not the same. Had the referees in the Dallas/Detroit game not overturned the pass interference call, the Lions would have gained 20 yards and a first down. The call would have altered the game in a way that was beneficial to the team that was fouled and detrimental to the team that committed the infraction. With the Patriots, had referees would have determined that a ball provided by the Patriots is no a playable ball, the Patriots would…have to give them another ball. That’s it. There is no other ramification. And if the Patriots didn’t have any playable balls the referees would have…gotten a ball from the Colts. And they would have told Roger Goodell that the Patriots ran out of playable balls. It doesn’t say that Goodell would then hand down a penalty, just that he would hear about it. There is literally no punishment in the NFL rulebook for failing to provide properly inflated footballs.

I wanted to be sure to point out that if the Patriots would have gotten called on the field for failing to provide playable footballs that there would have been no ramifications, but the fact still remains that in accordance with the rule the Patriots technically didn’t do anything wrong. Does it seem shady and underhanded? Yes. Will the NFL probably change the rule to put a clear penalty in place for providing non-playable footballs? Yes. But as it is now, the Patriots technically did nothing wrong.

If Goodell were to issue some sort of punishment to the Patriots it would set a dangerous precedent. Goodell is currently under fire for his failures when dealing with issues domestic violence and has gained a reputation as being soft on serious infractions like domestic violence and cheating while unnecessarily harsh about minor infractions, such as fining Marshawn Lynch $100,000 for refusing to speak to the media. The Patriots have not committed an infraction for which they can be penalized. If Goodell were to allow public opinion to overrule league rules it would be the ultimate miscarriage of justice. His job is to enforce the rules of the NFL, not allow them to be trampled over by angry fans.

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