NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Findings ‘Unreliable’

Exclusive: The widespread hatred of the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady explains the public support for the NFL’s harsh penalties in “Deflategate,” but independent statistical experts have found the NFL’s findings in the case to be “deeply flawed” and “unreliable,” writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A new report on the NFL’s “Deflategate” controversy by statistical experts at the American Enterprise Institute confirms much of what I had detected regarding flaws in the NFL’s findings, which claimed the New England Patriots had probably deflated their footballs and that quarterback Tom Brady probably had some awareness. AEI concluded that physics not tampering could explain the changes in air pressure.

AEI’s principal observation was that the NFL’s investigators were mistaken in relying on footballs used by the Indianapolis Colts in the same game as a control group, i.e., an assumption that they were otherwise identical to the Patriots’ footballs and that any deviation from the Colts’ air-pressure measurements would indicate wrongdoing by the Patriots.

New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady.

New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady.

The key flaw in that assumption was that the checks on the air pressure of the Colts’ footballs came at the end of halftime when the footballs had been indoors at a warmer temperature and thus had naturally re-inflated while the Patriots footballs were checked at the start of halftime when the effects of the cold, rainy weather would still have depressed the measurements.

As the AEI economists wrote, “Logistically, the greater change in pressure in the Patriots footballs can be explained by the fact that sufficient time may have passed between halftime testing of the two teams’ balls for the Colts balls to warm significantly, effectively inflating them.”

To downplay this key variable in the NFL’s report, outside counsel Ted Wells sought to compress the gap in time between when the air pressure of the Patriots’ footballs was measured and when the Colts’ footballs were tested. Wells asserted that the measurements followed one after the other, but other evidence and conflicting recollections by the NFL officials involved in the testing suggest that the Patriots’ footballs were tested and then re-inflated before the officials turned to the Colts’ footballs, measuring only four because they ran out of time.

As AEI and I both noted, a key piece of evidence undermining Wells’s compressed chronology was that the two NFL officials involved in testing the footballs seemed to have switched gauges between the first set of tests and the second, which would have made little sense if the measurements were sequential rather than separated by the re-inflation of the Patriots’ footballs.

But, as I have noted, there was another reason why the Colts’ footballs should not have served as a “control group” because the two sets of footballs were conditioned differently before the game. The Patriots rubbed down the balls more thoroughly than the Colts did, thus making the Patriots’ footballs less water resistant. The NFL’s scientific consultants found that moisture as well as temperature affected changes in air pressure and the duration of declines in pounds per square inch [PSI]. But Wells did not take into account that variable either.

Beyond these football variables, AEI detected an irregularity in how the Wells report presented its scientific findings, saying: “our replication of the report’s analysis finds that it relies on an unorthodox statistical procedure at odds with the methodology the report describes.” In other words, Wells seems to have played some games with the statistics to reach his conclusion incriminating the Patriots.

The AEI report noted another “crucial piece of evidence overlooked in the [Wells] report’s analysis” relating to the one Patriots’ football that was intercepted by the Colts during the first half. It became the basis for the Colts’ allegation that the Patriots had under-inflated their footballs, but the AEI report said:

“Assuming that the intercepted Patriots ball that was tested was inflated to 12.5 PSI [the minimum legal standard favored by Brady] before the game, the average of three measurements derived by this separate measurement process (11.52 PSI) was at the top of the range implied by the Ideal Gas [Law], according to the Wells report.”

In other words, the assumption that started this whole controversy that the Colts thought the intercepted ball had been intentionally made softer than it should be was mistaken. The ball’s PSI fell within the expected range as predicted by the laws of physics.

NFL’s ‘Unreliable’ Findings

AEI’s “Deflategate” study was conducted by Kevin A. Hassett, director of economic studies; Joseph W. Sullivan, a research assistant; and Stan A. Veuger, an AEI resident scholar. AEI also conducted a study of the New Orleans Saints’ “Bountygate” affair, in which the NFL handed out penalties after discovering that Saints’ coaches had offered incentives for knocking opposing team players out of a game. Based on a study of statistics, AEI determined that the Saints were no more likely to hurt opposing team players than other teams and sometimes less, contributing to the NFL’s decision to vacate the suspensions of Saints players.

On Sunday, in an article for the New York Times summarizing the AEI’s “Deflategate” findings, Hassett and Veuger described the Wells report as “deeply flawed” though it still has become the basis for the NFL fining the Patriots $1 million and stripping them of two draft picks and for suspending Tom Brady for four games. Though protesting their innocence, the Patriots decided not to challenge the penalty. However, Brady has appealed his suspension and has a hearing scheduled for June 23.

“Our recommendation?” wrote the AEI economists. “When the N.F.L. hears Mr. Brady’s appeal of his suspension later this month, it should proceed with the knowledge that the Wells report is unreliable.”

But there is another side of this overblown case that the NFL might want to consider. Were the Indianapolis Colts the ones trying to tamper with the competitiveness of the NFL by lodging a baseless complaint against the Patriots in the middle of the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18?

The halftime testing of the footballs even caused some confusion at the start of the second half and might have distracted the Patriots, though if that was the Colts’ plan it didn’t work. The Colts ended up losing 45-7, a second year in a row the Patriots booted them from the playoffs.

But the outcome of the “Deflategate” controversy even if it turns out that there was no intentional deflating of the footballs will help the Colts and other competitors in the years ahead, since the Patriots will lose a first- and fourth-round draft pick in 2016 and may have to play without their starting quarterback for a quarter of the upcoming season.

For a decade and a half, the Patriots have been the most consistently successful team in the NFL, winning four Super Bowls (including in 2015) and regularly qualifying for the playoffs. This success has understandably upset many of the teams that compete against them, creating an incentive to get the NFL to intervene to make the Patriots less competitive.

It’s a bit like handicapping a horse race by making the favorite carry more weight than the others, but that approach is itself an assault on the competitive fairness of the NFL, what Commissioner Roger Godell claims he is upholding in “Deflategate.”

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Holes in NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Report”;  “Why Write about NFL’s ‘Deflategate’”; and “Tom Brady and Theoretical Crime.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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25 comments for “NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Findings ‘Unreliable’

  1. Dan
    June 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Brady has to go court on this – the facts are with him but public opinion is not because most people really want to believe Brady cheated. Also, the Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrongs of the sporting world and haven’t helped Brady.

  2. Dutch
    June 18, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Have u all learned nothing from your government? The WHOLE Deflategate story is a distraction. The real story happened one week earlier when there Steelers were penalized 140 yards against Baltimore who only had 14 total and insignificant penalty yards. While most of you are dupes who take the NFL at face value, the many news outlets (like TheFixIsIn.com) who regularly report on fixing in pro sports, were absolutely on FIRE about this disparity. Call-by-call and play-by-play analyses were done and it was being called one of the most obviously-fixed games ever. Outrage was building quickly. Then poof, the very next Sunday the NFL gives everyone a new (not very) bouncy ball to follow, and everyone dutifully jumped on the bandwagon. Only this ‘controversy’ was no controversy at all. Just a hodge podge of usual suspects, disagreeing gauges, statistical trickery, and a string of contradictory blunders by inept officials. And one that the NFL has been party to keeping at the forefront despite how embarrassingly it reflects on them. Because it’s better than being outed for what was clear and demonstrable, all-hands-on-deck fixing in the Steelers-Ravens cheat-fest.
    So by all means keep the conversation going. The NFL loves hearing your pet theories and personal prejudices and vocal anger. It’s music to their ears to know that they can overtly fix games, yet still appear to be wholly invested in the integrity of the game to the legion of dupes that still thinks its real (the FBI has had a file on NFL fixing for decades). Just be sure to temper your theories against this one undeniable fact: the NFL has already won, no matter what further ‘revelations’ come to light in this ‘case’.

    Gullible much.

    • David
      June 18, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      I will take your allegations a bit seriously when you can produce some evidence like that FBI file.

  3. Dave
    June 18, 2015 at 12:40 am

    I must say the haters are predictable. The science shows no illegal deflating took place, so they switch to “he should have turned over his texts” and then attack the AEI for freely serving as an honest broker by investigating an issue that has the entire nation talking about it then finally they go after Robert Parry and try to knock him down.

    Mr Parry I respect you. and I will read more of your material in the future because I have seen where many other so called new sources have failed and then failed to correct and apologize for their error.

    As for the haters, they will not change and their self deceit and self delusion will keep them happy in their hate filled, spiteful little world.No amount of reasoning will change their minds. Jealousy, the herd mentality, self-righteousness all are at play for these slow processors with dim light bulbs.

    Thank you Mr Parry and as someone else once said, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

  4. June 17, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Why should each team play only with its own footballs anyway? I forgot where that came from but it is silly. Have a game football that both sides use. You know, just like sandlot football. Just like the playing field. Just like the weather. The only difference should be the teams.

  5. dahoit
    June 16, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Mr.Parry,your favorite sports team is a shady bunch.
    And as a NY fan,we respect Brady,we don’t hate him.Every Jet fan would love to have him on their team.

    • Dave
      June 18, 2015 at 7:56 am

      re: “we don’t hate him”

      I don’t know about that.

      I still remember the NY fans picking on Brady’s wife after the loss to the Giants….

      Just simply low class, crass, animals.
      No redeeming qualities.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZqYXdPb0fE

  6. Rob
    June 15, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    Has no one noticed the irony of Robert Parry relying on a study from the American Enterprise Institute, a neocon bastion which, in almost every other instance, he despises?

  7. garyh
    June 15, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Time for the league offices to be moved. Please go to http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/move-the-nfl-league-offices-to-canton-ohio and sign the petition.

  8. Alec
    June 15, 2015 at 2:41 am

    As an international reader can I say that I subscribe to this site to read matters of importance … not trivia ….. i can find plenty of that on msm.

  9. Ernest
    June 15, 2015 at 12:43 am

    David, et al, this is about someone’s honor & good name. Brady was shredded – I , for one, would be po’d as hell if vilified like he was. Colin k said it right- you don’t win by 35 points . You want to believe he cheated- I am not a Brady or Patriot fan. But, I am a someone who still believes that reputation means something. I think Jim Harbaugh set him up because Brady mocked him, and boy has Brady paid for it. This last few months must have bothered him- the venomous reports were multiple and ongoing…because so many wanted it to be true. What a one way group. If it were me- I would sue the pants off of them (NFL) for defamation along with several others. This still is America where you are innocent until proven guilty…at least until you are successful, rich & married to a rich beauty…

    • Zachary Smith
      June 15, 2015 at 12:53 am

      …this is about someone’s honor & good name.

      I certainly don’t disagree with you about this, though we would probably disagree about the details.

      One wonders why Pete Rose and Lance Armstrong didn’t have more diehard supporters.

      • Steve D
        June 15, 2015 at 7:39 am

        Remember that it was league sources that tipped off a couple of reporters with false information that started and kept this story alive.
        The fact that the NFL did nothing to correct the false information was key to the narrative that the Patriots and Tom Brady were guilty.
        I hope that Tom Brady does sue for defamation, even the Wells report could only guess that he may have known something.
        That’s not much support to ruin a mans reputation, especially one that is an NFL good guy. Not a doper or wife beater or child beater or rapist or murderer or gangbanger, but one that gives back to the community.
        How much money has Brady generated for this league.They sure hype up every game he is in.

    • Dutch
      June 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Wait, so you believe in both the integrity of the NFL, AND the justice system!? You really think the justice system would intervene to protect the reputation of the singular employee of a cheater league who has benefitted most from its systemic cheating?

      Hahahahahahaha! Priceless!

      Can you do math? The NFL brings in ~$12 billion in revenues per year. GAMBLING on the NFL brings in ~$300billion a year. So the NFL can get a share of a pot 25 times bigger than any they can make by doing things honestly. And get higher ratings, and get higher ad revenues, and get people more engaged, and draw the biggest crowds to the biggest games: just by fixing games. And you think they don’t? Hahahahahahaha!!!! Have you read their collective bargaining agreement? Do you know they are considered a non-profit and pay no taxes? Do you know how many lawsuits they’ve settled out of court just to avoid disclosure of unsavory facts? Do you know that many of the ‘faces of the NFL’ like Troy Aikman and Steve Young were party to those lawsuits? Do you know they ‘invented’ a brain condition and paid doctors millions to write papers to legitimize it so they could avoid liability to brain injured former players? But Tom Brady’s REPUTATION is the thing they should be sued over? Hahahahahahaha!! Please tell me more!!!!

  10. Joe Tedesky
    June 14, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    If this were any other web site I wouldn’t even take the time to read an article such as this. I truly have grown to love Robert Parry’s reporting. Apparently this ‘deflatgate’ thing is upsetting to Mr. Parry, and I feel for him. Although, I must say that there is no conclusion which will satisfy all of these sport fans who are so concerned about the outcome of ‘deflatgate’. The other thing is most people will never learn all of the details that surround this NFL scandal, so someone will end up being unhappy no matter what the verdict is. Besides that there are bigger fish to fry.

    PS – I do enjoy watching Tom Brady play. Maybe he just got caught, or possibly he is getting a bad call. In any case if he does sit out the four games, he will be well rested to finish the season. Knowing Brady this maybe all he will need to win another title. And ‘Bob’ just know I am rooting for you, since it seems to matter a whole bunch to you. Good luck in the upcoming season.

  11. David Hart
    June 14, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    And, in an aside, I would venture to say that this article is the first (and probably last) time that Robert Parry would favorably talk about ANYTHING published by the American Enterprise Institute.

    • Zachary Smith
      June 15, 2015 at 12:43 am

      …published by the American Enterprise Institute.

      That’s a good catch, and I’d have missed it because I only stopped by to look at the comments.

      It’s not a bit obvious to me what interest the New York Times has in publishing the Hassett/Veuger piece. And it’s even more puzzling why the AEI is making a valiant defense of the Patriots.

      Perhaps its as simple as the latter bunch reflexively defending billionaires and their institutions.

      After all, that Hassett guy wrote a piece about how “Marxist Professors” conspiring to push the false science of Climate Change is proof positive that we need to work towards the elimination of tenure.

      And the guy preaches how inequality doesn’t matter.

      http://www.salon.com/2012/10/26/income_inequality_not_what_the_doctor_ordered/

      But football? Well, one thousand, six hundred million dollars is a pile of money. And this might be a scheme to get some season tickets for the authors, or to improve the ones they already have.

  12. David Hart
    June 14, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    OK, this is ludicrous. I appreciate the scholarship on this site, but when you begin to delve into football games as some kind of national scandal, that is patently ridiculous. Fact: Tom Brady was one of several quarterbacks in the league who lobbied for equipment managers for each team prepare and handle the footballs whether the team played at home or away. Up to the year in which it was changed (2007), the home team was responsible for all of the game balls–a perfectly reasonable scenario, since the footballs were, by rules, expected to be at a certain PSI level, and both teams would have to play with the same footballs. The officials still checked to make sure the balls were within the guidelines set forth IN THE RULE BOOK. Tom Brady was known, by his equipment managers, to prefer balls that were deflated, either less than the 13.1 PSI, or even lower. The investigation found it reasonable that the equipment managers were doing just that for the AFC Championship game. It does not take a genius to figure out that Tom Brady has this done for every game he plays in. These equipment managers even talk about it. The NFL has little reason to accuse Brady or the Patriots of doing this without knowing that it really did happen. Why would they? What is the upside for the NFL to draw negative attention to this? It is simply sour grapes on the part of an organization that was caught cheating yet again. Why they do it is beyond me? They certainly don’t need to do it. Brady’s “explanation” was about the lamest press conference I have ever heard, and the fact that he was unwilling to allow the NFL to read his texts to and from the equipment managers–which they were willing to do without even seeing his personal information–just shows that he has something to hide; namely, his legacy is in the balance, for if he is found to have cheated in this area, no one outside of New England will believe his championships were won in a fair manner. The amount of effort expended by Patriot fans in this matter is proof that they realize this, or why would they be so vociferous in defense of Brady?

    • Anonymous
      June 15, 2015 at 10:52 am

      You aren’t listening!!!! The independent investigation report found the Wells Report deeply flawed. There is just as much evidence to show that the colts were duplicitous in deception and had just as much to gain. The actions of the referees were strange and inappropriate. And Goodell is a buffoon in his process for decision making in disciplinary actions. PAY ATTENTION TO THE FACTS AND STOP BEING A TROLL.

    • Mornelithe
      June 15, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      You’re not listening, and you clearly have been looking at the facts that have been presented. So what if Brady likes balls lower than 13.1, the lower threshold is 12.5. 13.1 is immaterial to the conversation. Any communication between ANY employees they never once alludes to dropping ball pressure below 12.5, or, after the ref has checked them. Not once. Not ever. And remember how email/texting works, you have the dialogue history of both individuals on both devices. You get one side you have access to it all. And all the NFL has is ‘more probable than not’? And this is with them ignoring head ref Walt Anderson’s ‘best recollection’ of gauge use, but accepting everything else he submitted.

      Second, the Wells Report and AEI analysis both agree that the Ideal Gas Law predicts the Patriots balls would fall into a certain range, given being inflated to 12.5 PSI in a 71-74 deg lockerroom, being transferred out of that room into a ~51 degree game. All 11 Patriots balls were w/in that range (the avg of the 11 was right in the middle of the predicted levels). The intercepted ball, was w/in the range predicted for IT’s time in the elements.

      The Colts balls, however, were HIGHER than the law predicts, which is explained by the fact that they waited longer to test those (only 4, because they ran out of time at half-time). There was no foul play…anywhere.

      The ‘deflator’ statement is what is called circumstantial, and is hardly ever on it’s own going to prove innocence or guilt. Everything else points the other way. And btw, when he took the balls, he walked through a room of NFL officials, into the hallway (where the bathroom was located), past Jeff Daniel (NFL official who’d been notified pre-game of the Colts inflation concerns) who didn’t turn to look, didn’t question him, not a thing. He went into the bathroom, for like a minute and 40 seconds? Exited, then went to the place he’s supposed to go with the balls on the field.

  13. Erik
    June 14, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Goes with the fact that everyone points to the “deflator” text messages last May concluding they’re guilty. Despite the fact the texts last October say literally “the refs screwed us” show there was no attempt to deflate the balls after giving them to the refs…and actually were inflate to 16psi…

  14. fosforos
    June 14, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    The NE staffer, who includes “deflator” in his job description, was photographed taking the inflated balls into a toilet out of camera view. *Res Ipse Loquitur* (“the fact speaks for itself”).

    • Anonymous
      June 14, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      The balls weren’t deflated. What don’t you understand? If they were tampered with the PSI’s would have been much lower. Maybe the guy was taking a piss in the bathroom?

    • steve d
      June 15, 2015 at 7:24 am

      You cant get a speeding ticket just cause your name is “speedy”

    • Mornelithe
      June 15, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      I understand it looks suspicious, but you’re allowing circumstantial evidence to speak louder than the forensic science. You literally have the physical explanation presented right in front of you. AEI’s analysis (not the NY Times piece), provides all of their reasoning, the equations, the tables w/ their data included etc.. It’s all reviewable, and it comes to the conclusion that physics does in fact account for everything here.

      For science to be accurate, it has to allow you to make predictions and then verify those predictions through experimentation and observation. The Wells’ Report experiment failed to be replicable and they showed exactly why that is.

      As far as the ‘deflator’ text. While I personally couldn’t see phrasing a weight joke that way, can you honestly say no one ever would, in an attempt to be funny? I’ve seen plenty of people say things that absolutely bombed, far more strange than that. Some food for thought.

Comments are closed.