Why Deflate a Football

If you’re a Pats fan, you’re used to dubious behavior on the part of a team that’s good enough – absolutely – to have no need for dubious behavior. Especially in the weeks before the Super Bowl, claims of dubious behavior – aka cheating – are the last thing you want to hear. Yet here we are with controversy over under-inflated footballs. Reportedly, 11 out of 12 Patriot game balls were significantly under-inflated at half time. 

The funny thing is that these very same footballs weighed the regulation weight when they were weighed pre-game. Yes. About 2.5 hours before the start of the game when they were weighed in by an official and put into ball bags that were then left on the sidelines, they weighed just what they should. By half time, not so much. Rabid fans may hold out for a problem with the first set of scales, but that seems pretty much a Hail Mary to me.

So why would any team want to use an under-inflated ball during the playoff game that could win them a place in the biggest game of the year?

Imagine you’re playing the Pats for a Super Bowl berth. Imagine you’ve just spent the past seventeen weeks playing sixteen games with footballs that were the regulation weight – at least we’ll assume that was the case. During those week of games and practice, you learned the behavior of the ball under a variety of circumstances. You came to the big game with the muscle memory and experience to intercept whatever the Pats threw at you — except the balls they were throwing on Game Day were about two pounds lighter than you expected. Think two pounds isn’t a lot? Weigh out some flour – or some more manly substance – and see for yourself.

Bottom Line:The ball could not perform as anticipated if it was lighter than usual. Why? The aerodynamic properties of the ball had been altered. With less air in the ball it favored the short pass. Also, a deflated football is easier to catch — especially in cold weather. So here you are playing the Patriots and they have a ball that performs better on the short passes than you expect, AND is easier to hold on to – and they know it before you realize it.

To make it clearer, here’s a video explanation by Prof Chang Kee Jung who teaches a course about the physics of sports at Stony Brook University:


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