The controversy surrounding underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship game known as “Deflategate” has spurred the NFL to enact new procedures for the handling of game balls. According to the league’s independent investigation, the Patriots game ball supply disappeared from the officials locker room and was found in the custody of the Patriots equipment staff. An unprecedented check by the officials of the air pressure at halftime showed that most of the game balls were below the 12 ½ p.s.i. minimum.
Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira revealed the new procedures which were disseminated to the officials over the weekend. Football Zebras reported that game balls did not come up during the discussions at the annual officiating clinic the previous weekend.
The longstanding procedure for the non-kicking balls was that the teams provide a primary supply of 12 game balls, the home team provide a backup supply of 12, and the visiting team may hand over a backup supply of 12. Once the balls have been checked for pressure (and pumped or deflated to fall in the range of 12 ½—13 ½ p.s.i.), the referee’s mark is applied to the football. In the championship game, the mark applied was a zigzag line of a stylized wa for referee Walt Anderson. If a ball was deemed unplayable at the referee’s discretion, it can be removed from play, but there was no provision to recheck the pressure during the game. (The check of air pressure at halftime of the championship game was authorized by senior supervisor of officiating Al Riveron and key members in the Football Operations department.)
The new procedure would have each set of game balls (with the visiting team now required to supply a backup set) numbered sequentially with the pregame air pressure recorded for each. Any ball that is out of range will be inflated or deflated to a target pressure of 13 p.s.i., rather than within the 12 ½—13 ½ p.s.i. range. The kicking-ball coordinator will now take custody of non-kicking balls as well, and a league security representative will monitor the handover of the balls to the ball attendants. The K-ball coordinator is a league employee.
On a random basis, games will be selected for a halftime or postgame audit of the air pressure. Officials will again record the air pressure, which will be included with the referee’s game report. There still is no provision to check the air pressure during the game if there is a suspected under- or overinflated ball; only randomly selected games would be subject to the spot check. The only action for a suspected out-of-compliance ball is to remove it from play.
If a random halftime check is performed, it will put an extraordinary time constraint on the crew, with only a 12-minute intermission that starts counting with the officials on the field. In order to be ready for the second half, the primary ball supplies will be removed from the game to utilize the backups. In the AFC Championship game, the game balls had not returned to the sideline for the first scrimmage down. Since both teams’ scrimmage balls were not available, Anderson made a kicking ball ready for play, despite Brady’s objection. Under the rules, the officials were to then resort to the “best available ball,” which Anderson determined to be a K ball. The play clock was stopped at 17 seconds before the first snap as a scrimmage ball was finally available.
It is unclear what real advantage was gained by the Patriots, but in this case there is a perception that the Patriots gained an advantage. After many spectacular failures of perception — including a lack of sensitivity to domestic violence and holding taxpayer-funded in-stadium events to recognize veterans — the league imposed harsh sanctions on the Patriots. On May 11, the league fined the franchise $1 million and revoked two draft choices: a first-round selection in 2016 and a fourth-round selection in 2017. Because the independent investigation found that quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” of deliberate actions to deflate the footballs, he was suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season. Brady is appealing the suspension, and the commissioner is expected to rule on the appeal soon.
The onerous procedures outlined above are similar to the perfunctory response when game balls were routinely altered to favor the kicking game.
Image: Patriots footballs from the 2013 AFC Championship game against the Broncos prior to referee inspection (David Silverman/Patriots); CBS Sports/NFL
NFL gameball procedure
from NFL Football Operations
- Two hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff, both teams will be required to bring 24 footballs (12 primary and 12 back-up) to the Officials’ Locker Room for inspection. Two Game Officials, designated by the Referee, will conduct the inspection and record the PSI measurement of each football. The League’s Security Representative will observe the inspection process. Primary game balls for each team will be numbered one through 12, and any game ball within the allowable range of 12.5 PSI to 13.5 PSI will be approved, and the PSI level will not be altered. Any game ball that is determined to be over 13.5 PSI or under 12.5 PSI will either be deflated or inflated to 13.0 PSI. The same procedure will be followed with respect to the back-up set of game balls for each team.
- Upon approval, each game ball and back-up ball will be stamped with the Referee’s distinctive mark at the corners of each non-insignia panel. The number of the ball will be placed at the same location.
- Once the game balls are approved by the Referee, the K-Ball Coordinator (KBC) will take custody of and remain responsible for the security of the game balls and back-up balls for each club. They will remain in the custody of the KBC until 10 minutes prior to kickoff. At that point, the KBC along with a designated Game Official and the League’s Security Representative will bring the footballs to the on-field replay station. Upon arrival, the game balls will be distributed to each club’s Ball Crew in the presence of the Security Rep. The back-up balls will remain in the officials’ locker room and will be secured to the satisfaction of the Referee prior to the KBC leaving for the playing field.
- At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half will be collected by the KBC at halftime, and the League’s Security Representative will escort the KBC with the footballs to the Officials’ Locker room. During halftime, each game ball for both teams will be inspected in the locker room by designated members of the officiating and security crews, and the PSI results will be measured and recorded. Once measured, those game balls will then be secured and removed from play.
For these randomly selected games only, the back-up footballs will be used for each team during the second half. Approximately three minutes prior to kickoff, the KBC along with a designated Game Official will bring the back-up set of game balls to the on-field replay station to be distributed to each club’s Ball Crew.
At the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the Officials’ Locker Room where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.
- All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office by noon on the day following the game.
- All gauges will be certified prior to each season by Wilson Sporting Goods. Each Referee will be provided with a primary and backup gauge. NFL Football Operations will maintain a backup supply as well. The same gauge will be used for pregame, halftime, and postgame testing.