For some, the Wells report is the gift that keeps on giving. For others, it’s the curse that keeps on cursing.
For me, it’s a fascinating document with 243 pages of nooks and crannies triggering plenty of healthy speculation and suspicion about the stuff that didn’t make it to the final document.
Today’s lesson, kids, starts at page 66 of the report. That’s the portion of the narrative that focuses on the events that unfolded at halftime of the AFC title game.
Clete Blakeman and Dyrol Prioleau tested the air pressure in each of the 11 footballs used by the Patriots. Richard Farley recorded the measurements generated by Blakeman and Prioleau. Then, Blakeman and Prioleau tested four of the Colts balls.
Why only four? The Wells report explains that the rest of the 12 Colts footballs weren’t tested due to time constraints.
“Halftime for the game was scheduled to last thirteen minutes and time was running short before the scheduled start of the second half,” Wells writes at pages 68-69.
But the report then explains that the officials “also inflated and readjusted each of the Patriots game balls tested,” with Alberto Riveron instructing that they be set to 13 PSI.
The sequence of the events is potentially critical. But the report makes the sequence unclear. Did they test the Patriots footballs, test only four of the Colts footballs before realizing that time was running short, and then re-inflate the 11 Patriots footballs? Or did they test the Patriots footballs, re-inflate them, and then test four of the Colts footballs before heading back to the field? If those facts are known, they’re not addressed anywhere in the report.
If the Colts footballs were tested before the Patriots footballs were re-inflated, a conclusion that “time was running short” when testing the Colts footballs would have, at a minimum, resulted in a hasty re-inflation of the Patriots footballs. Nothing the the report suggests that there was any hurry to get the footballs re-inflated. If the Patriots footballs were re-inflated before the testing of the Colts footballs commenced, the Colts footballs had extra time in a warmer environment than the field of play, which would have increased their internal air pressure — making the relative decreases measured in the New England and Indianapolis footballs (a factor that is critically important to Exponent’s conclusions) even more pronounced.
Some believe that the testing of the Colts footballs ended not because time was running short, but because the air pressure readings from one of the two gauges showed that three of the four Colts balls tested under 12.5 PSI. As the theory/hypothesis goes, one or more people supervising the process at that point didn’t want to know the results for all 12 Colts footballs, once it appeared that 75 percent of those tested had moved from at or above 13 PSI before the game to less than 12.5 PSI at halftime.
To understand the potential reaction of those involved in testing the footballs at halftime, it’s important to consider that, as former NFL official and supervisor of officials Jim Daopoulos said on Tuesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, game officials previously didn’t understand that air pressure drops when footballs are exposed to the elements. So when the readings for the 11 Patriots footballs were coming in below 12.5, the automatic assumption would have been tampering. Then, when the readings for the Colts footballs began coming in consistently below 12.5 on one of the two gauges, the reaction may have been confusion — and, if anyone in the room had a specific agenda against the Patriots, frustration.
“This isn’t about the Colts footballs,” someone possibly may have declared when realizing that the measurements from the Colts footballs was muddying the narrative that the Patriots had been caught cheating.
Either way, the effort to convert a traditionally unscientific practice of monitoring football air pressure prior to an NFL game into a white-coat, rubber-glove exercise in laboratory specificity becomes further undermined by the failure of the folks who had access to the Colts footballs at halftime to measure the air pressure in all of them. This failure becomes even more glaring because of Exponent’s ultimate reliance on the average decrease in air pressure for the Colts footballs in comparison to the average decrease in air pressure for the Patriots footballs in finding that tampering must have happened.