We’ll be posting the entire transcript of Bill Belichick’s Saturday press conference so that anyone interested in reading the whole thing can review it, process it, understand it. One fairly famous scientist who presumably listened to the entire press conference and/or read the transcript already has issued a verdict.
Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer who worked at Boeing before becoming TV’s “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” appeared on Sunday’s Good Morning America to say Belichick’s explanation “doesn’t make any sense.”
Another group based in Pittsburgh that includes brainiacs from Carnegie Mellon (somehow, I was admitted there and graduated with a degree a metallurgical engineering and materials sciences and a degree in engineering and public policy) claims that the conditions of the AFC title game would have caused a significant drop in air pressure.
“We took 12 brand new authentic NFL footballs and exposed them to the different elements they would have experienced throughout the game.” said Thomas Healy, founder of HeadSmart Labs and a masters student in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “Out of the twelve footballs we tested, we found that on average, footballs dropped 1.8 PSI when being exposed to dropping temperatures and wet conditions.”
As explained by the group that conducted the simulation: “During testing, twelve brand new footballs were inflated to 12.5 PSI in a 75 degree Fahrenheit room. This was to imitate the indoor conditions where the referees would have tested the footballs 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. The footballs were then moved to a 50 degree Fahrenheit environment to simulate the temperatures that were experienced throughout the game. In addition, the footballs were dampened to replicate the rainy conditions.”
It’s unclear whether the footballs were placed in a wet, 50-degree environment immediately after testing for a full 135 minutes before kickoff or whether they waited until just before kickoff to move the footballs to the simulated game conditions. It’s also unclear whether the various balls were exposed to the same external forces to which a dozen footballs used by an NFL offense would be exposed when rotated through the first half of a game. It’s also unclear whether re-testing of the footballs was done following the precise duration of the first half of the Colts-Patriots game.
Precision is critical for any scientific experiment. For example, the official kickoff temperature in Foxboro on Sunday was 51 degrees, not 50. To fully simulate the conditions, the test should have occurred at 51 degrees. Also, room temperature typically is 72 degrees, not 75. That results in a four-degree variance, which surely had an impact on the ultimate findings, since pressure and temperature are directly related.
Overlooked by the CMU folks (and Belichick, and others) was the reported ability of the Colts’ footballs to remain within the accepted range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI after the same duration of exposure to the same elements and conditions. If, on average, the footballs tested at a starting PSI lost 1.8 pounds on average (i.e., 14.4 percent of their air pressure), footballs pumped even to the maximum of 13.5 PSI would have lost 1.94 PSI on average, taking them to 11.56, nearly a full bound below the minimum limit.
Look for more scientists in the coming days to emerge from their labs with more experiments and more explanations. Ultimately, the NFL will need to offer a convincing explanation for whatever it was that caused the NFL to hire the guy who performed the Dolphins bullying investigation to get to the bottom of why the Patriots footballs were not within the required specifications.