The New England Patriots said science proves they didn’t deflate footballs during the AFC Championship game. As it turns out, science comes close to proving they did.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft hung his hat on science leading up to and after the NFL issued its report on “deflategate,” the alleged tampering of footballs in his team’s win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
You may recall that the Patriots had science on their side in the form of the Ideal Gas Law, which is the relationship between pressure, volume and temperature for a gas in an enclosed vessel. Several physics experts had claimed the temperature accounted for the lower air pressure in the football the Patriots used.
Even the New York Times jumped aboard.
Sorry, Patriots. Science can’t help you. It was explained in the NFL investigation.
And actually, EDN Network (an engineering community) writes, science rather indicts the Patriots, although it suggests less air was removed from the football than originally reported.
Did the Indianapolis Colts tamper with their balls?
We see the Colts data was 0.63 psi higher than expected. Does this mean the Colts intentionally added air to their balls? How can this number be explained? The primary explanation is their balls warmed when taken indoors before being measured (reference: NFL exponent report page 2). We don’t know how much the footballs warmed after being brought in. According to the NFL report, the Colts balls were measured after the Patriot balls, and therefore experienced more warming.
Did the New England Patriots tamper with their balls?
The NFL report states “it is more likely (greater than 50% chance) than not the Patriot balls were tampered with.” Had there been good physical evidence, the report would have made a stronger statement such as “it is likely that..”. The reason for any suspicion at all is the NFL expected the Patriot balls to have warmed a bit to yield another 0.2 psi to 0.4 psi of pressure more than what was measured. Yet, not more than the 0.6 psi seen with Colts balls that experienced longer warming (due to being measured after the Patriot balls). So, if we expect Patriot balls to have warmed by 0.4 psi and they were measured 0.1 psi low, then that would mean they were low by 0.5 psi. In other words, if there was tampering, then approximately 0.5 psi was intentionally released. This is much less than the 2 psi that was previously reported by the media. Had the NFL initially reported the balls were 0.5 psi low, would it had been news and investigation worthy? Probably not. If you wanted to tamper to make a difference, wouldn’t you release more? Probably.
Boston University professor Martin Schmaltz, who was one of the first scientists to invoke the law in this dispute. His original calculations seemed to suggest the deflated footballs could be explained by the physics. Now he thinks the physics proved the Patriots deflated the balls.
“A lot of the text message stuff, that looks pretty damning to me,” Schmaltz says. ‘The science I don’t think is a slam dunk in terms of convicting them, but it also looks much more likely (than not) this was done just based on the science.”
Science can turn on you like that.