On Monday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association filed a petition for rehearing of the ruling that reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension. On Tuesday, a group of professors of physics and engineering submitted a brief in support of Brady’s position.
The eight-page document, filed by 21 professors at MIT, Cal, Michigan, USC, Stanford, Delaware, Purdue, Penn, Boston College, Minnesota, focuses on the application of the Ideal Gas Law to the footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC championship game played in January 2015. It strongly disputes the conclusions made by the NFL in the investigation that resulted in a finding that tampering with footballs had occurred.
The argument is fundamentally no different than the point PFT has made consistently since the official PSI numbers were released in May 2015: With the Ideal Gas Law necessarily causing the air pressure in the footballs to drop during the first half of the game, tampering with the footballs would have resulted in dramatically lower readings than the actual numbers measured by the NFL.
Included with the written presentation is a claim that the professors have obtained field-temperature date for more than 10,000 outdoor NFL games played since 1960, and that approximately 61 percent of all games would have included footballs that dropped in air pressure below the minimum of 12.5 PSI, if the footballs were inflated to 13.0 at kickoff. For footballs inflated (as the Patriots were) toward the low end of the range, roughly 82 percent of all games would have included footballs below the minimum.
“As professors, we cannot fathom how it is permissible to impose punishment for the possibility of a negligible increment of pressure loss, when underinflated footballs are common to NFL games, when laws of physics cause much larger pressure drops, and when the very possibility of an additional increment of pressure loss was generated from assumptions of the league’s choosing rather than data,” the brief concludes. “In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing.”
Technically irrelevant to the issues pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the brief contains the kind of commonsensical information that could persuade a judge to take a more favorable view of the overall case. And while footnote No. 1 to the brief points out that “[n]o party’s counsel authored this brief in whole or in part” and that “[n]o party, no counsel for any party, and no person other than [the professors] or their counsel contributed money that was intended to fund preparation or submission of this brief,” it’s a development that Brady and the NFLPA surely welcome. It also wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the legal team representing Brady and the NFLPA instigated the filing.
Why shouldn’t they? The scientific principles articulated in the brief are accurate, but those same principles haven’t received nearly the attention they deserve, at any stage of the disciplinary process or the litigation.
The numbers measured by the NFL were in line with what the science would have predicted. If air deliberately had been removed from the footballs, the PSI readings necessarily would have been much, much lower.
Thus, to the extent that Brady’s suspension arises from tampering with footballs used in the January 2015 AFC title game, the evidence of tampering remains inconclusive at best. Even if that dynamic is never mentioned by any judge serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in any further documents generated by these proceedings, the 13 judges who will be determining whether to grant the request for a rehearing need to process and digest the information provided by these 21 professors.