The Flat Balls Society

By Dan Snapp

Peter King in successive weeks:

July 13th:

“My best guess: Officials will chart the weights of all footballs before the game, then spot-check some at halftime and after the game.”

July 20th:

“Basically, depending on which physics expert you believe, it’s either a stretch to think the Patriots’ footballs deflated as much as they did by halftime of the game against Indy Jan. 18, or a perfectly normal occurrence.”

July 27th:

“When footballs are pressure-gauged before games, they will still have to measure between 12.5 pounds per square inch and 13.5 psi. If they do not, the officials will be instructed to put the air in the football at 13.0 psi. So if one team is trying to get an edge by having the pressure right on the border near 12.5 or right on the border near 13.5, and it’s either under or over by a tenth of a pound, it will backfire. In the past, maybe a crew would measure and say, “Close enough.” Now, that crew will have to put the psi at the halfway point between high and low, exactly 13.0. In other words, it’s a decision soft-ball lovers or hard-ball lovers really won’t like.”

This is, if not the pre-eminent NFL writer today, then the most ubiquitous. He’s the bad penny showing up everywhere, regurgitating bad science. He still thinks they’ll be charting the weight of the balls? He still thinks the physics is a coin toss? He still thinks a couple tenths of a pound per square inch is motive enough for teams to try to sneak something past the officials?

I get it, not everybody can accept science on faith alone. They need proof. So perhaps if King wakes up to find the Logo Gauge AND the Non-Logo Gauge under his tree this year, maybe then he can truly BELIEVE. Yes, Peter, there IS an Ideal Gas Law!

King has been dutifully floating Roger Goodell’s help-me-find-a-way-out-of-this-shit trial balloons the past few weeks, gauging* public response to a host of Tom Brady fates. How does two games sound? One game? No? How about forestalling Brady’s punishment for a year while we study the science just a little bit longer? Then can Roger keep his job?

* And recording? Probably. The league’s pretty diligent when it comes to Rog’s Q-rating.

Following up on one of King’s “hunches”, the league announced plans to update football inspection. They won’t “chart the weights” of the balls, sadly, but pregame they will be numbering the balls, they’ll be gauging and recording the PSI of each respective ball, they’ll “spot check” during “designated games” (i.e. “Patriots games”), and there will be a dedicated chain of custody, with the Kicking Ball Coordinator escorting the balls to the field under the watchful eyes of both an official AND league security. Go ahead and try to crack THAT nut, Dorito Dink!

This is all well and good, and does at least provide a level of standardization that might have aided the Patriots back in January when this whole ridiculous episode commenced. And the spot check measurements – assuming the league is gracious enough to share them this time – could also serve to vindicate the Patriots.

But look at some of the other details of their announcement:

Each team will be required to supply 24 footballs to the officials’ locker room – 12 primary and 12 backup – 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to the game.

At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half, will be collected by the kicking ball coordinator (KBC) at halftime and the league’s security representative will escort the KBC to the locker room.

Also, 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.

Do you see the problem? Every single time they measure the balls, it’s still going to be in the climate-controlled atmosphere of the officials’ locker room. And there’s no mention in the article of recording the temperatures of the locker rooms and out on the field, the climate conditions, or the respective times each football gets measured.

They still don’t understand the science!

What’s the point of all this trouble, effort, time and procedure if they’re still going to be introducing balls that won’t be at regulation within minutes at any game where on-field temperatures are 10 degrees colder or hotter than in the officials’ locker room?**

** Assuming an officials’ locker room temp of 71 degrees, and a ball set at 13.0 PSI with no other variables out of spec.

It sure will be comforting to know,  say during December home games in New England, Buffalo, Green Bay and Minnesota, we can be assured those footballs will be at regulation up until kickoff. But hey, at least now we’ll be dead certain nobody will be tampering with already under-inflated footballs. Integrity! Shield! Nobody touch a slice ‘til Rog does!

Do they not yet realize how many games in league history have been played with balls that weren’t within their silly arbitrary PSI parameters? Not just iconic games like the Ice Bowl or the Freezer Bowl, or even the Patriots/Ravens divisional game this past season (when game-time temp was 22 degrees), but multitudes of games throughout the decades.

And the same goes for those early September games played in the sweltering heat in say Miami. If the balls were checked inside, they most likely were over regulation within minutes on the field. That’s just science.

The truth is the NFL cares not one iota about getting it right, and certainly doesn’t care about vindicating the Patriots. They do care, however, about trying to look good. And adding more arbitrary regulations to an already arbitrary standard makes it look – at least to the general populace – like they’re doing something productive. Before you look a little deeper, of course.

What should they do? Logically, they could do the preliminary ball-checks on the field. At least then there’s some consistency between the environment where the ball is measured and the environment in which they play. But that still doesn’t assure anything because, well, weather isn’t a constant.

What they really should do is go back to not giving a damn about ball pressure, like they did the 70 some-odd years since they first set the standard. They should just return to that blissful ignorance that served them so well for so long, before Ryan Grigson and Mike Kensil got their panties in a bunch.

The NFL has to worry about two audiences alone: the 32 owners whom it enriches; and the nation of flat-earthers eager to sop up any story that incriminates the team they hate. Neither group cares a whit about science.

This is why you never hear tales of Roger Goodell going on a cruise: Sure, sure, they all say the Earth is round, but why take the chance? But we could always sail Ted around the world a dozen times, just to be sure.

That Song By Queen And David Bowie

Come on. You know what song I’m talking about.

As Roger Goodell and his NFL ilk try to figure out the ruling on Tom Brady’s appeal with the smallest amount of P.R. damage, it’s time to bring up the one aspect of this foolishness that hasn’t been called into question:

The NFL has to ditch the football inflation rule.

Listen, they can do whatever they want with the Brady appeal. They can present it to the masses like a commandment to be followed or make it into a paper boat and perform a mini Viking funeral. The rule, as it were, exists. If the NFL is willing to stick with the questionable figures of the Wells report and ignore the lessons of any ninth grade intro to physical science class, so be it. “More likely than not,” “generally aware,” etc.

But, moving forward, it’s time to get rid of – or at least greatly expand – the ball inflation parameters. A brief look at the task of enforcing this rule – which, as far as we can tell, had never been strictly enforced – tells us the reasons why.

Every football must have air pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi). The Wells report revealed the nonchalant nature in which these measurements take place, with officials using differently calibrated gauges while neglecting to write down measurements or numerate the footballs themselves.

All footballs must be numbered. All measurements must be recorded. All gauges must be calibrated. Sounds like we might need another official to take care of these matters.

The NFL must hire a Head of Football Pressure. He then must hire two PSI officials for every game, one for each team’s footballs (this will give each official necessary time to take halftime measurements).

Now, about that pesky science: we know that a football’s pressure in Miami at the season opener will have a different halftime reading than a football in Green Bay during Week 17. We need a physics-trained football official (PTF), one who can take game time outdoor temperature, humidity and/or dampness of each ball, time of possession (to figure time of exposure for each football), halftime indoor temperature, and – while the aforementioned PSI official takes measurements – come up with a “real” pressure loss or gain for each individual ball.

Keep in mind, the Wells Report took almost four months. But, if we can’t get a couple of people to figure this all out in 20 minutes, let’s just expand halftime another five or ten minutes and bring in another handful of officials to get it done. How about a PSI and PTF official for each football? Nothing like a few dozen extra guys milling about in a designated Ball Science room.

I mean, if they’re taking this seriously, can they stop at halftime? Don’t they have to repeat the process at the end of each game, for integrity and all that?

Yeah. Time to get rid of that rule.

Before this past January, very few people knew or concerned themselves with the specifics of football psi. Referees judged a football’s game worthiness by giving it a squeeze. Sometimes they’d pump it up themselves, sometimes with shaky results. Now, what if equipment managers could get the psi that their QBs wanted? What if they let the refs grip them before the game – right there on the sideline – and be done with it?

Ball seems too flat or overinflated? The officials say so and ask for a few pumps of air put in or taken out of the ball. During the game, if the ref finds a ball lacking, he tosses it back in and asks for another. It’s hard to see many difficulties with leaving the pressure up to the refs’ discretion. We already do that with the most important aspect of the game: spotting the ball.

Think about it: how closely can a human being determine the position of a football several feet away while it’s gripped by a runner getting knocked around by large men? If the official is off by one inch per play – which seems remarkably efficient – then by fourth and inches, maybe every one of those inches has already been accounted for. Maybe, in Perfectworld, it’s already first down.

That’s the game, though. We live with those potential inaccuracies because putting GPS locator devices in each ball and having a digital readout for each play would prove too costly and time-consuming. Kind of like hiring hundreds of new officials and building a science lab in every NFL stadium.

Some teams might try to take advantage of this non-rule by inflating footballs to under 11 pounds, making them easy to grab in harsh weather conditions. Again, officials’ discretion: if they feel a football is too soft, get another one. If they feel that the team in question continues to provide soft footballs, give a warning, then hit them with a delay-of-game penalty.

The NFL in general (and Goodell in particular) turned a silly rule infraction (that science has told us may not have occurred) into talk show fodder where the outrage seemed inversely proportional to actual football knowledge. That an improbable breaking of an oft-ignored rule became “-gate”-worthy is on them.

Getting rid of that rule would take off the pressure of trying to enforce it. But I don’t expect they will. If this fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that the NFL doesn’t really understand pressure.

Chris Warner tweets @cwarn89

Who’s The FA? UDFA! (2015 Edition)

A gander at last year’s column here, with notable mentions of linebacker James Morris and a certain West Alabama cornerback who may or may not have made one of the biggest plays in Patriots history. (Go on. Go ahead: Watch it again. We’ll wait.)

Lots of info out floating around out there regarding UDFAs. We tend to stick with NEPatriotsdraft.com for all our NFL undrafted rookie signing needs. Below is a rundown of fresh free agents the Patriots called to Gillette. Plus: high school fun facts!

Georgia On My Line: After picking up two guards in the fourth round (Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason), New England continued to add to the interior offensive line with center David Andrews from Georgia.

Why undrafted: At 6-2, 295 pounds, Andrews resides on the smaller side of offensive lineman. This was also a solid drafting year for guards and centers, taking on-the-bubble players like Andrews out of the action.

Why invited: He has three years of experience as a starter. Makes up a bit for his relatively diminutive stature with speed (5.12-second 40) and strength (27 bench reps). Showed consistency, playing in 50 games in his Georgia career. From a positive Pats perspective, he was given the Frank Sinkwich Toughest Player Award (named after Georgia’s 1942 Heisman winner). Also voted the Bulldogs’ “overall permanent captain.” Somewhere Bill Belichick let out a happy sigh.

High School Fun Fact: At Wesleyan High in Johns Creek, Georgia, Andrews was named the 2010 Gwinnett County Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Come On, Quarterbacks Can’t Play Receiver: Former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (6-3, 218) tries to follow in the footsteps of another QB-to-WR convert currently working in the Foxboro area.

Why undrafted: Julian Edelman notwithstanding, the aforementioned conversion fails more often than not. As a QB in 2014, Gardner threw for 10 TDs and 15 INTs. At his pro day, he ran a 4.65-second 40, which put him on the slow end of receivers. His 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump was less than explosive.

Why invited: The Pats aren’t exactly overstocked with larger pass-catchers, and Gardner did haul in 16 passes as a junior. He showed guts with his 2013 performance  vs. rival Ohio State (passed for 451 yards and four TDs). Also put up some solid pro day numbers beyond the 40 (Beyond The 40, by the way, should be the title of the book on New England’s draft strategy). He had 15 bench reps and a 6.96-second 3-cone drill.

High School Fun Fact: Gardner was teammates with former Wolverine and current Patriot linebacker Cameron Gordon at Detroit’s Inkster High.

Wait – Is That Pronounced “Hopper”? Well, now it is, sort of. Cal-Berkeley pass-catcher Chris Harper (5-11, 182) gets a shot with the Patriots, looking to add depth as a slot receiver.

Why undrafted: During this draft, teams had their pick of solid wide receivers (Draft. Pick. Get it?), especially those in the slot role. Even as a smaller player, Harper’s weight (or lack of it) could concern some teams. While he has decent stats (see below), nothing there stands out. A down year for 5-7 Cal, with no players drafted.

Why invited: Harper caught 52 passes for the Golden Bears in 2014 (second-highest on the team) for 634 yards (12.2 avg) and six touchdowns. He also served as their main punt returner (7.7 avg). He has decent speed (a 4.52 40 at his pro day), and quickness (a reported 7.03 3-cone drill). Also – and most importantly – he made this rather Gronkesque catch vs. UCLA last October.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior, Harper led the Serra League in receiving at Crespi Carmelite High. He also played cornerback and was ranked as the 12th-best corner in Southern California.

Come Back to the Nickel and Dime, Jimmy Jean, Jimmy Jean: Free safety Jimmy Jean out of Alabama-Birmingham adds some height to the defensive backfield at 6-2, 202 pounds.

Why undrafted: The NFL seems to overlook Conference USA a bit. More importantly, Jean had an unimpressive showing at his pro day, with a meh 40 (4.58), blah 3-cone (7.34) and yeesh bench press (seven reps).

Why invited: Jean did some of everything for the Blazers, compiling 42 tackles, one interception, six pass breakups, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. He’s also got the height New England could be seeking this season.

High School/Junior College Fun Fact: After attending Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Florida, Jean played two years at Arkansas Baptist Junior College, where he earned their Little Rock Touchdown Club 2012 College Player of the Year Award.

You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss: New England went after – and got – another bigger defensive back, strong safety Brandon King (6-2, 217) out of Auburn.

Why undrafted: Though he went into Auburn as a safety, ranked as one of the top junior college DBs in the country, it seems that King got moved around on defense for the Tigers. Didn’t compile many stats there. Ended up with just 12 tackles on the season last year.

Why invited: Took one for the team in 2014, as he was asked to take on a pass-rushing role (had two QB hits). Tested very well at his pro day, with a 4.49-second 40, a 10-foot-6 broad jump, and 19 bench press reps. Has similar size to draft pick Matthew Wells, which makes us think that Belichick is up to something with these safety/linebacker hybrid types.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Thompson High in Alabaster, Alabama, King racked up 116 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss.

While We’re Young: Looks like Shane Young out of Sam Houston State will try to get a chair at the increasingly crowded tight end table this summer.

Why undrafted: Not anything in particular. As in, not particularly fast (4.90 40), nor particularly quick (7.45 3-cone), nor particularly explosive (31.5-inch vertical). Young (6-3, 250) only played in three games last year, catching four passes. Sam Houston State runs in the Southland Conference, which is part of a lower division (FCS).

Why invited: Caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two TDs as a junior. Went to the FCS National Championship with the Bearkats that year. Can play H-back and fullback.

High School Fun Fact: A captain at Lago Vista (California) High, Young was named the offensive line MVP. He was also All-District in baseball.

He’s A Brick, House: Ah, the Commodores. Appropriate reference for Vince Taylor, a defensive lineman from Vanderbilt who manned the nose tackle spot.

Why undrafted: At 6-1, 306 pounds, Taylor seems a bit small for the position. Does not have much speed (5.40 40) or quickness (7.46 3-cone). Vandy went 3-9 last year, 0-8 in the Southeast Conference.

Why invited: We’ll refer again to the “Brick House.” At his pro day, Taylor bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times, which would have led all defensive linemen at the NFL Combine and tied for second-best overall. Last fall, he had 43 total tackles, including 20 solo stops and three for loss (1.5 sacks).

High School Fun Fact: A First-Team All-State defensive tackle as a senior at Oak Grove High in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Taylor had 97 solo tackles (117 total) and returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.