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Zach Kruse is a 26-year-old sports writer who currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
After studying economics and history at UW-Madison, Zach covered prep sports for his local newspaper, The Dunn County News, while also completing the Bleacher Report internship program and landing a job covering the NFL for the company.
Zach also writes for Cheesehead TV: http://cheeseheadtv.com.
Zach is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA).
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SCIENCE, DEFLATEGATE AND THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
DeflateGate has erupted onto the National stage, and seems poised to stay there through Superbowl Sunday and beyond. It has been a fascinating, tortured soap opera that has vexed most of us and brought out the worst in some of us. What if this controversy can be resolved through a more reasoned process? What if it could provide a teachable moment for the country about how justice and fairness can be undermined by our collective ignorance of established science and fact, and how what we don't know can distort our beliefs and actions? It is with such high hopes that I share these thoughts with you about under-inflated footballs.
To determine if the New England Patriots have violated NFL rules about ball inflation, the main question is, "Was the drop in ball pressure due to natural causes or tampering?" As Coach Belichick explained last Saturday, the best way to truly answer this question is to do an experiment. Before such an experiment, a scientist will need to form a testable hypothesis, a prediction, based on the facts of the situation and what is known about natural laws. In this case, the relevant physical law is the Ideal Gas Law (Pressure x Volume = n x R x Temperature) combined with the fact that friction generates heat.
Check out this informative video which also explains the science behind the pressure-drop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf8oQ4rhR-A
THE FOUR PHYSICAL PHASES OF DEFLATEGATE
Knowing the conditions at the AFC Championship game and how the Patriot’s footballs were treated, it’s not hard to anticipate the result based on the four different physical phases the balls went through. The logical prediction is that ball pressure would drop significantly below the NFL minimum 12.5 psi. In fact, this is a certainty:
1) Rubbing Phase - Before the AFC Championship game, Brady's balls were in the locker room, where the air temperature was likely 70-75 degrees. His balls were then rubbed vigorously for a substantial preparation period. The rubbing created heat from friction. The heat increased the air Temperature in the footballs above the indoor temperature. The warm air couldn't expand the footballs by much, so the Pressure would increase.
2) Cooling Phase A - Brady's warmed balls were given to referee Walt Anderson, who was asked to set the pressure at 12.5 psi. The warmed balls stayed in the official's locker room for over 2 hours and gradually cooled back to the indoor temperature. This initial drop in Temperature would result in a corresponding drop in Pressure (approx 1 psi per Coach Belichick).
3) Cooling Phase B - 10 minutes before kickoff, the balls were taken by NFL staff to the sideline. The temperature was approximately 50 degrees, but would have been lower on surfaces exposed to rain and wind-chill. Over the course of the first half, Brady's wet balls would have cooled to below 50 degrees. This second drop in ball Temperature would result in a further drop in ball Pressure (psi).
4) Stretching Phase - In addition, the leather of a wet football stretches, increasing the Volume inside it. Increased ball Volume would cause a third drop in ball Pressure (psi). Did you see the condition of the balls? Several pictures show them dripping wet and soaked through in the hands of the players and referees. The leather would have stretched - how much would have to be determined by experiment.
Taken together, these physical and climate factors would definitely drop the pressure in the footballs to substantially below the 12.5 psi set, per NFL protocol, by officials 2 hours pregame. This is not a possibility, it is a certainty.
Just like when you hold a solid object in your hand then let it go, it will fall according to physical laws (gravity), so it is that whenever a referee in their locker room inflates a warmed ball to the lower limit of 12.5 psi, then takes it out into cold, wet, windy weather, that ball will be underinflated 100% of the time. There is no question that this has happened countless times in late season, cold weather games throughout the history of the National Football League. Asterisks all around for everybody, especially the Packers!
A MATTER OF DEGREE
Aside from the certainty of cold weather pressure drop, the real question we are left with is, "How much does it drop?" This will be answered not by rifling through the team's email, text messages and surveillance video, but rather by an experiment. Hence Coach Belichick's usual common sense in taking the opportunity to do just this before the team left Foxborough. Until someone else performs and documents the definitive experiment (several amateur scientists have posted attempts on YouTube), we should all take him at his word that ball pressure would have dropped enough, without any tampering, to account for what was observed by the referees during the recent AFC championship game.
It should be pointed out that an NFL football team could have avoided football deflation below the league minimum 12.5 psi in very cold weather by checking the ball pressure on the sideline during the game and pumping more air into them (increasing the “n” in the Ideal Gas Law). However, this would violate NFL rules by tampering with the balls. Teams have been placed by the NFL in an untenable situation where they’re “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”… and double-dog-damned if they happen to be the New England Patriots.
THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND
During this fascinating, frustrating, all-consuming week of DeflateGate, some might wonder how could so many intelligent, highly paid NFL executives and officials have established such a flawed rule, a rule that appear ignorant of the fact that cold weather drops ball Pressure.
The DeflateGate "scandal" rages on because so many remain mystified by the inexplicable deflation of footballs in a cold, wet game. The science needed to dispel this mystery is not hard to grasp. In fact, the ideal gas law was formulated back in 1834, and is taught in high school physics class. Tragically, many journalists and commentators lack this knowledge and have plunged ahead recklessly with false accusations and little curiosity about the basic facts of the matter. They think that for the pressure to drop significantly, someone must have let air out of the Patriots balls. They just know it. Emboldened by ignorance and sinister suspicion, they have proclaimed the Patriots must have cheated by intentionally let air out of the balls by tampering with them. We wonder why so many media pundits have been so blind to their ignorance.
Answers to these questions come from the other important scientific field at play in DeflateGate: Cognitive and Social Psychology. Discussion of this is complex and goes way beyond the issue of football pressure, but is extremely relevant to the media and society at large. If you are interested, please look up "Cognitive Bias" and "The Dunning-Kruger effect: Why The Incompetent Don’t Know They’re Incompetent".
The science of cognitive bias is necessary to help us to understand how overconfident NFL officials established unworkable inflation rules. It also helps us to better understand why so many pundits have failed to appreciate the reasons for football deflation in a cold wet game yet have gone on to lob accusations of ball tampering with great confidence and righteous indignation (and a few tears).
While the science of human cognition and its limitations is probably powerless to eliminate the mass hysteria of DeflateGate, Obama birthers or Climate change luddites, high school physics can reliably keep NFL footballs properly inflated during games in any kind of weather. It could, in some small way, embody the way an enlightened society can solve problems in a rational, effective manner. Like most true solutions, the fix for NFL balls is simple, cost effective and elegant. Here it is:
1) Keep the current process of the teams giving their game balls to the officials 2-3 hours before kick-off. The officials have time to inspect the balls and allow time to correct any concerns.
2) At least 90 minutes before kick-off, the officials place the balls in breathable tamper proof bags or other containers, seal the containers with tamper-proof fasteners, and take them down to the field. This will allow the air inside the footballs to equilibrate to the climactic conditions (i.e. temperature) on the field.
3) The bags should be placed in plain sight of both teams, fans and officials in the center of the field. In any case, they must not be left near sideline heaters or fans.
4) The outside of the containers should be reflective White in color. (If the containers were black or other dark color and left in the sun, they will heat up the balls and prevent equilibration.
5) Whether to keep the balls dry from any rain will have to be determined.
6) The officials will break open the tamper-proof seals 10-20 minutes before kickoff, remove the balls, and adjust air pressure to NFL specifications.
7) Officials should be allowed to check and readjust ball pressures at half-time or other times during the game.
DeflateGate is the unfortunate outcome of irrational rules for pregame football inflation that have been adopted by NFL executives, lawyers and business owners who clearly lacked common sense and a knowledge of basic high-school physics. Robert Kraft’s indignation is certainly justified, but should be tempered by the realization that he joined so many others in implementing these rules. While apparently competent to manage business and legal matters, one wonders about the competency of NFL officials to handle all the other important matters facing the unprecedented sport of American football (like the epidemic of concussions and head injuries, for which there is also a simple scientific solution).
DeflateGate is not about who said what to who, about whether a coach or player is popular or likeable, about whether anyone should have felt a drop in football pressure by squeezing the ball, about how long it takes a ball-boy to relieve himself before heading to the sideline, or about whether deflation makes it easier or harder to hold, throw or catch a football. At least, this is not what it should be about. No, this controversy is simply about the pressure-drop in footballs during a cold, wet game. To determine whether or not pressure would have naturally dropped without tampering, the NFL needs a few scientists, not a team of lawyers on a witch hunt in need of a conspiracy. Most importantly, there is a simple, science-based process that NFL referees can easily follow to prevent similar problems in the future. It involves leaving the balls in sealed white bags at midfield for 90 minutes then adjusting ball pressure 15 minutes before kick-off.
Please consider these comments and feel free to publish, print, reproduce and pass on any portion of them.
Just a quick question, did I get my comment deleted because I used the f-word? It was on your "Packers loss continues troubling trend" article. Can you please confirm this, so I know not to do that again.
Awesome predictions this week!
nice job on the pick records. That says something about your knowledge of NFL teams and players.
You should give up. Your articles are crap.
@Scott Shille How much money did you make on the Seahawks SB win?
Right, Zach--how DARE you think differently from this clown!
Zach, I went after you, because it was ridiculous per se to predict Denver to win the Super Bowl in the first place. So, you shouldn't have made that prediction in the first place. You should have known that record-setting offenses usually lose the Super Bowl. You also should have known that the #1 defense has beaten the #1 offense in the Super Bowl 3 out of 4 times. Now, the #1 defense has beaten the #1 offense 4 out of 5 times. Furthermore, you should have also known the physical teams will almost always smash finesse teams, but you forgot about that as well.