Engineers and physicists at MIT, Penn, Stanford, Michigan, Berkeley, and several other leading universities filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of Tom Brady’s case against the NFL.
“Although sensationalized in the press, it was no surprise to any scientist that the Patriots’ footballs lost pressure during the AFC Championship,” the filing reads. “As the league’s reports recognize, so-called ‘deflation’ happens naturally when any closed vessel, such as a football, moves from a warm environment to a cold one. This is not tampering. It is science.”
Using temperature data for 10,000 NFL games dating back to 1960, and assuming 70-degree temperatures for locker rooms, the scientists point out that a majority of balls pumped to 13 psi—the NFL’s legal mid-range point for inflation—decreased pressure to below what the rulebook demands.
But the NFL, unaccustomed to halftime spot checks prior to the controversial game, never knew this.
In the appeal hearing last year in the NFL’s headquarters, Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, admitted an unawareness of the Ideal Gas Law before discovering footballs showing lower pressure at halftime than they did prior to the Patriots-Colts game. “What I found in interviewing referees and just witnesses in general is that there was no appreciation for the Ideal Gas Law and the possible impact that that might have,” Ted Wells told Tom Brady’s lawyer during that same hearing. “And so people didn’t appreciate that if you measured a ball in a hot locker room and then took it out to a cold field, you have automatic drop. Now, the Patriots had figured that out, okay.”
Brady seeks an en banc hearing of the 13 judges of the court to overturn a 2-1 decision last month. An earlier appeal late last summer went in Brady’s favor and invalidated the four-game suspension meted out by Roger Goodell against the New England Patriots quarterback for an alleged general awareness of a “more probable than not” scheme to deflate footballs before the 2015 playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“As professors,” the scientists declare, “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. In the name of science, we support the petition for rehearing.”