The wild-card round of the playoffs will include a game at Minnesota featuring bitterly cold temperatures. It’s the kind of temperatures that makes things shrivel. Including but not limited to the air inside of a football.
But with the coldest game of the season looming (and with, as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports has explained, PSI possibly dropping below 9.0), the NFL has no automatic plan to test the PSI of either team’s footballs on Sunday, at halftime or anytime.
“They are done randomly,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday via email regarding the league’s air-pressure testing protocol. “We are not given a list and we do not have a comment on other aspects of the program.”
Throughout the 2015 regular season, the NFL did indeed randomly test PSI levels. October comments from Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested that the program was less about science and more about enforcing the rules.
It became clear during the effort to suspend Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in whatever other employees of the team were or weren’t doing that the NFL previously had no idea that footballs taken from a warm environment within the accepted range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI into the cold would experience a decline in air pressure. As a result, when the footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game last January showed PSI levels below the minimum of 12.5 at halftime, a strong presumption of tampering arose.
From that point forward, the process seemed to be focused on justifying that presumption and not understanding the science. The absence of curiosity about how PSI behaves in all types of playing conditions leads to one logical conclusion: The NFL doesn’t want to generate the kind of comprehensive, 333-game database of evidence that would possibly show that the Patriots didn’t cheat or that, at a minimum, the “more probable than not” conclusions from the notorious Ted Wells report were more probably than not aimed at reaching a predetermined result that meshed with the strong presumption that emerged as the PSI levels from the Patriots’ footballs were coming in under 12.5.
Instead of testing the air pressure at halftime and after every preseason, regular-season, and postseason game, the NFL has opted for randomness, with no commitment to disclose any of the information generated. As a result, no one knows when, where, or how often PSI testing will happen — with the exception of one report that PSI levels were checked during the Titans-Patriots game last month in New England.
Most importantly, no one will know what the measured levels were. Which will prevent anyone from comparing the readings on cold-weather days to the readings from a year ago and concluding that the results of the Wells investigation were inconclusive.