Football Basics – The Ball

NFL Football Basics - The Ball

If you follow sports news at all, I’m sure by now, you’ve heard about the NFL looking into the Patriots possible use of deflated balls in the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

Since we’ve had to update this post so frequently in the past few days, this is the spot where we’ll put a Tweet or a link with the latest development.

UPDATE 1/24/15: Bill Belichick held a surprise press conference, where he talked science and made My Cousin Vinny references. Basically, he’s saying to the NFL, “Prove it.”

Whomp, whomp. What a downer for all of those Pats fans.

(In case you didn’t read our About section, Val and I clearly state that we are both Patriots fans. We can say nice things about any team except the Jets, but at the end of the day, our Patriots fandom switch is permanently stuck in an upright position. Feel free to keep this in mind when reading this post.)

We think this is a great opportunity to learn more about NFL footballs and why people care about their inflation levels.

Here are some things to keep in mind about NFL balls during game play:

– There are two different types of balls used during the game. “K balls” and “game balls.”

K balls are used for the kickoff game and are brand-spankin’ new out of the package. Game balls do not need to be brand spankin’ new, but they do need to be filled with proper air pressure (12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure). Per this Associated Press story with lots of interesting details, this is what happens with K balls:

So the night before a game, 12 balls marked with a “K” are delivered straight from the manufacturer, Wilson Sporting Goods, to the officials. Two hours before the game, a representative from each team can prepare the balls by rubbing them down and brushing them off. An official then checks the air pressure, puts the balls in a bag and subs them in on kicks.

– Prior to the game, each team provides the officiating crew with 12 game balls, sometimes more if requested in the case of bad weather.

Each team uses their own balls during the course of the game. (I’m sorry, but is anyone else having difficulty being mature with all of the ball references? I’d like to think I’m a lady, but I am struggling right now.)

– The officials check the air pressure within the game balls prior to the game.

– Once the air pressure is checked and any balls are adjusted, from our understanding, they are handed off to the ball boys from each team.

Peter King had an excellent post on the day in the life an officiating crew last December. Here’s an excerpt where he talks about the ball handling process on game day:

The Kicking Ball Coordinator (every game has one) walks in and sees Mackie. “Got the ‘K’ balls?” he says, and Mackie hands him the six balls that one team rep from both Baltimore and Chicago will be able to condition for the next 45 minutes; the proviso is they’re only allowed to use brushes, towels and water to get the sheen and wax and new-football feel off for the game.

“Got the game balls yet?” Mackie says to the locker-room attendant, and as if on cue an orange bag of 24 game balls arrives from a Bears equipment man. Minutes later the Ravens’ bag of 24 shows up. Usually it’s 12 per team, but with the threat of bad weather each team conditioned 24 balls during the week—the Chicago balls will be used when the Bears are on offense, Baltimore’s when the Ravens have the ball—and now Mackie, Waggoner and Paganelli go to work to get the balls prepared. One by one, as if on an assembly line, Mackie checks with a pressure gauge to see if the balls are filled to 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure. Those that aren’t get taken to the bathroom. There Paganelli uses an electric pump to fill up the balls, Mackie checks the pressure, and Waggoner puts the good ones in the sink, until all are perfect. Then Waggoner marks each by silver Sharpie with an “L” below the NFL shield, Steratore’s branding of each ball so they’re not confused with other balls found on the sidelines. The “L” is in honor of Steratore’s fiancée.

In another side of the room, Schuster chews on a red Twizzler while filling out a form for each team: Before the first half, he’ll be checking a randomly picked group of players for slippery substances, and he’ll do the same with a different group at halftime. He puts the numbers of the players he’ll be patting down on his “Player Uniform Foreign Substance” card. He says it’s been about 10 years since a player has been caught with silicone on the jersey.

Outside the locker room at 10:18, Waggoner meets the three ballboys for the game. “We’ll have weather today, so be prepared to change balls every play, okay?” One replies: “Yes sir.”

The six ‘K’ balls return at 10:28. “I’ve never had to use six,” says Mackie. “Even on a wet day like this, we’ll probably only get to four.”

– The officials handle the balls a lot during the game. Have you ever noticed how players constantly hand the balls back to the officials after every play? One would think that at least one member of the officiating crew would notice if a ball felt deflated. Additionally, the balls are tested throughout play.

– If a team were to mess with air pressure within the balls, it would have to happen some time between the officials handing the balls off to the balls boys and the time the ball boys walk out to the sideline. So yes, there’s probably a moment in time that someone could tamper with the balls. Admittedly, I don’t know all the details of this timeline, but one would assume that you wouldn’t change the pressure of the ball once you’re out on the field in everyone’s view.

– What’s the effect of using a deflated ball during a game? According to Peter King, “[…] if true, theoretically it could—could, not would—make a football easier to throw and catch.” Considering the weather conditions (very rainy), a deflated ball could help in that situation.

If you watched the Pats game, you would have noticed that after the 3rd quarter kickoff (Colts kicking, Pats receiving), there was a delay before the Pats were allowed to run their first play. There appeared to be some confusion regarding the balls, and as NFL rules expert Mike Carey and commentator Phil Simms pointed out, the K ball was still on the field. The ball boys did not provide them with a new game ball, as they should have. You can find video of this here.

There are still a lot of emerging details on this story. In our personal opinion, if the Patriots, did in fact, deflate balls on purpose, 1) that’s stupid/disappointing because they don’t need to do so to win and 2) it’s hard to believe that all 45 points they put up were because of the deflated balls. We are in no way condoning cheating (if we had a dollar for every time we had to say this as Pats fans, we would quit our day jobs and buy an island next to Richard Branson’s), but the Colts only put up 7 points.

We’ll try to post any significant updates within this post as the story unfolds with our DeflateGate timeline below:

UPDATE 1/20/15: We’ve got another update from an unnamed source about the specific play that caught the attention of the officials. The following excerpt is from here:

According to a person familiar with the background of the matter, the Colts first noticed something unusual after an interception by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in the second quarter. Jackson gave the ball to a member of the Colts’ equipment staff, who noticed the ball seemed underinflated and then notified coach Chuck Pagano.

General manager Ryan Grigson was notified in the press box, and he contacted Mike Kensil, NFL director of football operations. Kensil then told the on-field officials at halftime, when the Patriots led 17-7. The Patriots erupted for 21 points in the third quarter, although it is not known if any of the balls were improperly inflated after halftime.

Asked Monday about the balls, Pagano said: “Did not notice, and that’s something for the league to handle. It’s not my place to comment on it.”

UPDATE 1/20/15: Jim Daopoulis, an ex-ref made was interviewed on a Boston sports talk show and this is what he had to say about it:

I think this is a non issue. Completely a non-issue. I just can’t imagine something like this happening.

Basically what happens is the officials get the footballs before the game. They mark the footballs, they check the pressure of the footballs. There are so many issues going on, so many people out on the field. People that come out of the office in New York that are just walking around the field. And I don’t believe ball boy that is making $10 an hour is going to stand there with a needle in his hand taking air out of the ball. And how do they know which ball they’re gonna send in there? And basically if a referee or an official doesn’t like the feel of the ball, he’s going to throw it out. So I just think it’s a non-issue right now.

If you listen to the audio, Jim also talks about why the NFL is taking the time to look into the issue. In short, it’s because of the team that’s involved.

(As an aside, Jim is a great follow on Twitter if you’re interested in learning more about the calls being made during games. He’s got great insight and gets straight to the point. We also like Mike Pereira for this type of thing – he’s probably more recognizable as an officiating guru for most football fans.)

UPDATE 1/20/15 :

UPDATE 1/21/15 : Mike Reiss’ latest post is full of questions that we’re waiting for the answers to as we wait for the NFL to complete it’s investigation: All thoughts in one place on deflated balls

This article talks about the challenges involved with deflating balls.

We think the concerns about possible deflated K balls at the Pats-Ravens divisional game is a non-issue. K Balls are monitored by a neutral NFL employee during the course of the game.

Here is a helpful FAQ about game balls from ESPN. Most of it we covered here, but it’s worth a read.

UPDATE 1/22/15: Bill Belichick’s statement on Thursday morning was uncharacteristically long and detailed. Watch for #I’veToldYouEverythingIKnow to trend on social media. He could have ended his time at the podium with a mic drop and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

UPDATE 1/22/15: Tom Brady also held a press conference. Pats fans waited for Stacey James (VP of Media Relations) to take Tom out of his misery after answering questions from the media, which was starting to resemble a pack of blood-thirsty wolves. Most important thing we got out of this conference was Tom saying that the NFL investigators had not talked with him yet.

UPDATE 1/22/15: Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson says he didn’t notice anything weird with the football he intercepted. He wanted to keep it as a souvenir and handed it off to a Colts staff member, who allegedly set off a chain of events prompting an investigation.

UPDATE 1/23/15: The NFL finally issued a statement saying that they were conducting an investigation.


Once we get through DeflateGate, I think we’ll all agree that we now know more than we ever needed to know about NFL footballs. 

So, what’s your take on this? Let us know in the comments below.

If there are any players or former players out there that can tell us how much of a difference the air pressure in a ball makes, we would love to hear your thoughts!


6 thoughts on “Football Basics – The Ball

  1. My question is: Are the pressure gages calibrated. Are the checked with a master gage? If not, how do they know the gage is reading accurately.

  2. In my gut I think this is a bunch of b.s. When did the ballboys have a chance to deflate the balls? Why were none of the officials aware of any problems?They’re the one handing the balls to the players.

  3. Pingback: Our Thoughts – 2014 NFL Playoffs – Championship Games Recap | The Snap

  4. Pingback: Snap Roadtrip: Patriots Super Bowl Send-Off | The Snap

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