NFL's missing data on air pressure is another black eye in deflate-gate saga

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Roger Goodell sure did get upset when Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone last year during the deflate-gate saga, an implication the quarterback was hiding something.

The NFL commissioner returned the favor on Tuesday when he announced the league did not keep any of the data on air pressure of footballs that officials were required to log and submit to the league office during the 2015 season.

Evidence? What evidence?

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Roger Goodell (AP)
Roger Goodell (AP)

Now the New England Patriots are no longer able to point to specific, NFL-generated data that proves Ideal Gas Law, not human tampering, caused its footballs to lose air pressure in the 2014 AFC championship game.

That study was supposed to be the franchise's best chance to introduce new information that might allow the return of the 2016 first- and fourth-round draft picks, plus $1 million, the league docked it for deflate-gate.

"We do spot checks to prevent and make sure the clubs understand that we're watching these issues," Goodell said on "The Rich Eisen Show" on Tuesday. "It wasn't a research study. They simply were spot checks."

Spot checks?

Here's how it was written as an "update" to the NFL's operation manual back in August 2015:

"At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half will be collected by the KBC [kicking-ball coordinator] at halftime, and the League's Security Representative will escort the KBC with the footballs to the Officials' Locker room. During halftime, each game ball for both teams will be inspected in the locker room by designated members of the officiating and security crews, and the PSI results will be measured and recorded. Once measured, those game balls will then be secured and removed from play.

"For these randomly selected games only, the back-up footballs will be used for each team during the second half. Approximately three minutes prior to kickoff, the KBC along with a designated Game Official will bring the back-up set of game balls to the on-field replay station to be distributed to each club's Ball Crew.

"At the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the Officials' Locker Room where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded."

That's quite a lot of procedure for a simple "spot check."

Most notably, however, is this:

"All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee's Report, which must be submitted to the League office by noon on the day following the game," the operations update reads.

So all the data was recorded on an official referee's report, which was sent to New York in a timely fashion where the pertinent information – or presumably entire referee report actually – just … vanished?

August 2015: we specifically demand this data.

February 2016: no, no, we never wanted the data, why would we?

So the NFL got the info … but didn't? Or it still has the info ... but doesn't care to look?

Since the NFL established the ball-testing plan, scientists around the country have been waiting to see how the league tried to spin its way out of Ideal Gas Law, which has been accepted fact since 1834. It seemed like Goodell was walking the league into a trap.

Apparently the league won't even try to fight it and just hope no one is paying attention.

This year's AFC title game was less of a success for Tom Brady and the Patriots. (AP)
This year's AFC title game was less of a success for Tom Brady and the Patriots. (AP)

Of course, that's been the strategy for a while now. Consider the original "Brady destroyed his cell phone" story – conveniently leaked via "league sources" to scream through the news cycle. It turned out Ted Wells, who headed the NFL's investigation, told Brady that he didn't need to hand over the phone. Brady's mistake was trusting Wells.

It didn't matter. When something that wasn't needed was destroyed, the league used it as proof of guilt, both in Goodell's findings and the court of public opinion.

Now that something that was needed was "lost," hey, it's no big deal.

As recently as October, with the new pressure measuring system under way, Goodell was asked at a formal news conference when and how the NFL data would be released publicly.

"I don't know," he said, with zero insinuation that the league wasn't keeping the information.

The NFL, in a follow-up inquiry from Yahoo Sports, stated a week later, "we simply haven't focused yet on how the information will be distributed."

Apparently it was distributed into an incinerator.

Confused? Try being Roger Goodell, who has seen deflate-gate become an albatross. The NFL hasn't looked good in this since the release of  Wells' report in May 2015. It was then the public was able to comb over the findings away from the frenzy of false media reports.

What emerged were endless inconsistencies, absurd reaches in logic, failures of scientific methods and proof of an over-the-top misinformation campaign. And then there are the clown-show rationalizations like this one.

Day by day, drip-by-drip, the case has fallen apart, be it in federal court, a lecture hall at MIT or in the commonsense-rooted laughter that greeted Goodell's acknowledgement on Tuesday.

What remains is this most likely scenario: that NFL officials, completely unaware of Ideal Gas Law, believed that any New England football that measured below the minimum of 12.5 psi in the AFC title game was proof of orchestrated tampering. Anything in the 11s was proof of a massive conspiracy. In fact it was all a natural act.

Ignorant of science and overwhelmed by confirmation bias, the NFL embarked on an effort to nail the Patriots. Then, via leaks to favored reporters who were as prejudicial as they were false, the league found itself too far out on the limb to climb back as facts came in and theories fell apart.

All it could do is point to random text exchanges and nicknames, and hope the public was too naïve to question it, too scientifically ignorant to comprehend it or too bored to still care.

Well, there were also those howls about destroyed evidence, because we know destroyed evidence is something that Roger Goodell's NFL must absolutely take a stand against. The NFL just can't tolerate that type of behavior.

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