In response to #Deflategate, the NFL began conducting random testing of football air pressure — not in order to establish a database of actual changes in PSI levels but as a deterrent against deliberately taking air out of (or, in theory, adding air to) the footballs used by a given team. So how often did the league randomly test football air pressure?
Specific numbers haven’t been provided, but referee Ronald Torbert recently told Ben Volin of the Boston Globe that Torbert’s crew had it happen only once last year. With 17 crews and with each crew, like each team, getting a bye, that’s 16 regular-season games per crew. For Torbert’s crew, that’s one random PSI test in 16 games. If each crew had it happen once, that’s a total of 17 PSI spot checks during the 2015 regular season.
Regardless of the number of PSI spot checks, no one knows what the process revealed because the league has opted to treat the information as completely and totally confidential. Which feeds natural suspicion that: (1) the league knows PSI levels naturally drop in cold-weather games; and (2) the league doesn’t want the media or the public to be able to compare PSI levels that dropped below 12.5 during a game to the numbers generated in the Colts-Patriots playoff game that resulted in a presumption of cheating and, in the opinion of some, a multi-million-dollar effort to work backward from that presumption of cheating to prove that cheating occurred. (For the record, I am one of the “some” who believe that’s what occurred.)
It’s still not even completely clear who has seen the numbers on the gauges from the random tests. Torbert told Volin that the individual officiating crews log the PSI numbers at halftime of the games involving spot checks. Previously, however, NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino told PFT Live that NFL Security handles the random testing, that NFL Security obtains the PSI information, and that NFL Security doesn’t disclose it to the officials working the games.
“We kept track of the footballs pregame and then the spot check, that’s really NFL Security is involved in that,” Blandino said on July 19. “So on the officiating side, we weren’t involved in the PSI and that part of it. We really were focusing on the chain of custody and the protocol and who had access to the footballs and how they were getting from point A to point B before the game. . . . NFL Security would log that [PSI] information and that’s how the procedure took place.”
The clearest takeaway from the various snippets of information that have emerged over the past year regarding random PSI testing is that the NFL wants to be sure that only a small handful of people know what the measurements were. The absence of transparency in contrast to a controversy in which, via the Ted Wells report and the Tom Brady suspension, appeal, and litigation, all facts were made available ad nauseum serves only to feed suspicion that the NFL doesn’t want anyone to know the numbers harvested by the random process — and that the NFL doesn’t want anyone to know the numbers because the NFL knows it will become even harder to justify a finding of cheating in connection with the January 2015 AFC Championship if people have the ability to analyze the PSI numbers generated during the 2015 season.