NFL Sets New Procedures for Football Inspections

In case you were wondering, it apparently only takes 2.2 seconds to remove two pounds of pressure from a football. So in retrospect, giving the balls back to the teams hours in advance was probably never the best idea. (Michael Graae/New York Daily News)

In case you were wondering, it apparently only takes 2.2 seconds to remove two pounds of pressure from a football. So in retrospect, giving the balls back to the teams hours in advance was probably never the best idea. (Michael Graae/New York Daily News)

When we first talked about controversy in the NFL’s offseason, the new ruling on the Redskins name controversy had not yet been handed down. And while there were a few things going on at that time, one of them stood out above the others: Deflategate. Even those who don’t favor football (or those who don’t follow sports, for that matter) were aware of it due to the widespread controversy over Tom Brady of the New England Patriots using an under-inflated football. Now, the NFL is setting new procedures for football inspections to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

That said, not all of the coming season’s rules for football inspections will be new. So to help you understand what’s going to be changing, we’ll start by covering the old procedures, many of which are still going to be in place. We’ll then cover the two major rules being set. Finally, looking away from football inspections, we’ll talk about any other recent Deflategate news that you might have missed.

Old Procedures for Football Inspections

Under the old rules, ref Walt Anderson had to check the balls himself. There will now be two crew members assigned to the job. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

Under the old rules, ref Walt Anderson had to check the balls for the controversial AFC title game himself. There will now be two crew members assigned to the job. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

One of the first questions on everyone’s mind when the story of Deflategate first broke was whether or not football inspections had been handled properly. It was especially a concern at the time, since the Super Bowl was looming in the distance. Fans needed to know that NFL officials could be trusted. It was also an issue since the standard count of 12 footballs per team is raised to 54 balls per team for the Super Bowl. The balls are switched out more frequently, and many of them are donated to charity once the Super Bowl is over.

This meant that they had to approach football inspections with greater caution. At the time, NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino was quoted as saying: “It will not be quite like [protecting] the Stanley Cup, but there will be added security.” But what type of security is given to football inspections in the first place? Well, to answer that, we look to former NFL referee Jim Daopoulos, who sat down with The Boston Globe back in January to talk about the proper procedure for football inspections. And in case you still have any doubts about Walt Anderson, who checked the balls for the AFC title game that launched Deflategate (or Ballghazi, if you prefer), Daopoulos says that he is a “by-the-rules stickler.”

It’s quite an interview, as fascinating as it is lengthy. Daopoulos explains that each team brings between 12 and 24 footballs for inspection, each of which is stuck with a gauge to make sure that they’re between 12.5 and 13.5 psi. In the case of the balls used in the AFC title game, they were right at around 12.5 pounds, which meant that they were passable. Interestingly enough, however, Daopoulos also says that things used to be done a bit differently. Namely, teams did not have a chance to practice with balls and submit them to officials.

About a decade or so ago, balls were taken nearly straight from the box and scrubbed down by officials before the game. This is still the procedure used for kicking balls, largely due to the belief that kickers had been putting them in everything from dryers to microwave ovens in order to manipulate their soaring distance. Punters and kickers hate the new K balls due to how difficult they can be to control, and they often have to squeeze them or otherwise mess about with them in order to rough them up a bit.

Sports Illustrated column “Monday Morning Quarterback” did some informal tests, and discovered that the average person really can’t feel the difference between a ball at 10 psi and one at 12.5 psi. It isn’t particularly soft, which is why football inspections have to be performed using gauges rather than basic squeeze tests. Of course, while the difference may not be particularly noticeable, that does not mean there is no effect on the ball’s airtime. And besides, how many “average” people like Tom Brady do you know? These regulations weren’t put into effect for no reason.

Many people, including Jim Daopoulos, suspected that there would be new regulations put in place for football inspections as a result of Deflategate. Bill Belichick, who isn’t exactly the most trusted person in the world of football, has stated that the team will be more cautious in the future. He is quoted as saying: “I’ve learned about the inflation range situation, obviously, with our footballs being inflated to the twelve and a half pound range, any deflation would then take us under that specification limit. Knowing that now, in the future we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game.”

New Procedures for Football Inspections

With NFL officials having come under fire at the start of Deflategate, it is not too surprising that they are instigating new procedures for football inspections. Jim Daopoulos, among others, had anticipated that these regulations would be the same as those used for K balls; however, this is not the case. Balls will not be taken straight from the box, but pressure readings will be carefully documented and there will be random pressure checks at halftime and after the game has finished. Teams will have to supply two dozen footballs, and they will have to be in the hands of officials by two hours and fifteen minutes prior to kickoff.

The kicking coordinator will now be the one in charge of looking after all game balls until about ten minutes before the start of the game. From the sound of things, this is likely the right person to put in charge. Skip Bayless of ESPN points out that, traditionally, kicking balls have always been monitored much more closely than the quarterback’s balls. Not only are kicking balls rejected more frequently, but quarterbacks previously received their balls back from officials as much as two hours before kickoff. This will no longer be the case.

Another major change is that the referee will not be responsible for checking every single football. Instead, two members will be appointed by the ref to perform the task at hand. This change seems a bit more questionable, as there is no longer one person to hold accountable. On the other hand, conspiracy theorists who believe that referees can be bought will no longer have a leg to stand on. If it is ever believed for any reason that one of the two appointed crew members has not performed their job properly, their integrity can be backed by their assisting colleague.

Normally, when talking about a new rule in a major sports league, we would discuss whether or not this would affect our clients. But sports bettors really don’t have much to gain or lose from the new procedures for football inspections. If these procedures were more similar to those governing the use of K balls, then such might not be the case. But given that the regulations only really affect who will be checking the balls, when they will be checked, and how well pressure readings will be documented, they shouldn’t affect the game too much. As such, the new PAT rule stands as one of the only things you’ll have to worry about this coming season.

Well, that’s not quite true. There are a few other new rules. Linebackers can wear a few new jersey numbers. Unsportsmanlike conduct fouls will be handled a bit differently. Blocks below the waist are going to be regulated more strictly. But there’s nothing particularly notable in these rule changes, which is why we haven’t covered them in too much detail. If you’re really interested in the specifics, NBC made a pretty comprehensive list of the nine rule changes that preceded the new protocol for football inspections and how these changes will be handled next season.

In any case, while the new procedures for football inspections were rather predictable, that does not mean they have been well-received by everyone. Skip Bayless, in a video linked above, points out that implementing new rules makes it seem as if the NFL didn’t care that much about inflation procedures before. This means that any potential denial of Tom Brady’s appeal would likely be ill-received. But according to USA Today, that isn’t the only possible source of controversy looming in the NFL’s future. Put quite simply, there aren’t just new rules, there are more rules. That means that both players and NFL officials will have more opportunities to spark controversy if future football inspections turn out to be questionable in any way.

Other News Pertaining to Deflategate

This section could easily be entitled “News About Tom Brady,” because that’s the major issue on everyone’s mind when it comes to Deflategate. That and the Wells Report, the veracity of which is still under debate. It was just last month that The New York Times studied the report and decided that the Patriots were likely innocent of any wrongdoing. Since then, many are wondering why it’s still taking so long to reach a decision on Brady’s appeal.

Even the appeals process itself was controversial at the time. It took ten hours, and some were upset that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not recuse himself from the proceedings. It was reported by CNN at that time that the decision would probably take a few days, and possibly even a few weeks. But it has now been over a month. To be fair, the 2015-2016 NFL season doesn’t begin until September 10 (a little over a month from now), and a four-game suspension isn’t as bad as it could be. Still, given that the suspension is on par with punishments that have previously been doled out for arguably greater offenses, Brady’s fans are none too happy about the lag in the decision process.

The NFL Players Association is now getting involved in an effort to speed things along. Camp is getting ready to start, and the Pats need to know if they should be focusing their efforts in practice on Brady or on potential four-game sub-in Jimmy Garoppolo. We’re pretty anxious for them to reach a decision as well; unlike the new procedures for football inspections, the starting quarterback in New England’s first four games actually will have an impact on sports bettors at the start of next season.

SB Nation’s MMBM (not to be confused with SI’s MMQM, referenced above) has reported that there are several possibilities which might arise from the settlement talks. Brady might not be suspended, although the team will likely have to accept a fine. The other main proposal offered by MMBM (suspending Brady from the Super Bowl) is clearly meant for the sake of comedy and has almost certainly not been an actual consideration of the league. However, on a somewhat more serious note, they point out that Goodell doesn’t really have to reach a decision until he’s good and ready. Since he’ll likely come under fire from one party or another regardless of how he decides to handle Brady’s case, it makes sense for him to weigh the options carefully. Especially with the validity of the Wells Report still under debate. The middle ground would be to simply reduce the suspension, but that wouldn’t sit well with the owners of the Indianapolis Colts or the Baltimore Ravens.

According to CBS writer Will Brinson, Brady could easily play in New England’s first game if he really wanted to. Well, okay…not that easily. Brinson outlines a relatively chaotic chain of events involving Brady suing the NFL and the league filing a motion for dismissal. However, whether or not this plays out (or if it even needs to) is apparently irrelevant as far as Brady’s concerned. As per usual, he has shown up to training camp early and is ready to begin going about his business. Whether he’s guilty or not, you have to give the guy credit for continuing to take his job seriously.

So, will Tom Brady’s appeal be granted? Will he sue the NFL if it isn’t, even though some believe that a lawsuit would be a terrible idea? Does it even matter, now that new procedures for football inspections are causing many to doubt whether any punishment is necessary? Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments below. In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for Goodell to make his decision before the debate gets any more heated. He might not get it done by the time camp starts, but hopefully he’ll get to it before camp ends. Otherwise, his reputation’s likely to take an even greater hit than the one it’ll take from whichever decision he makes.