The rationale for this hooey generally holds that "A Rule Is A Rule and If You Break A Rule You Should Be Punished" and "We Must Protect The Integrity Of The Game." I have a pretty Gheorghe view of this matter--I do not take it, or myself, particularly seriously.
The whole A Rule Is A Rule line of thinking is just plain silly. There are Rules and then there are rules. "Thou shalt not kill" is a Rule. "Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain" is merely a rule, and a goddamn rule at that. People who espouse this rationale are hypocrites unless they always cross at the corner and only when the "WALK" sign lights up; they didn't drink or smoke or look at porn underage; they never take a sip of their coffee on the Metro; they've never peed in a bush or between two parked cars on Harrison Avenue at 2 am on their way home from the delis; they never littered; they never let their car inspection expire; and the never lied to their girlfriend when she asked if she looked fat in a particularly unflattering outfit. They certainly never smoked pot or drove a car after drinking a few beers or got free cable when the previous tenants moved out and didn't turn it off.
I think the best analogy is speeding. Everyone speeds every day. No one thinks you should get a speeding ticket for driving 29 in a 25. No cop would give you a ticket under those circumstances and no judge would enforce it. I didn't pick those numbers at random--those extra 4 MPH represent a 16% increase over a 25 MPH speed limit. That's the same percentage difference at issue with Brady's balls--2 psi is 16% of the 12.5 psi limit. Honestly, if you heard that Tom Brady drove his car 29 MPH in a 25 MPH zone, would you say that he should get a ticket? That he should lose his license? That he should go to jail?
Of course not. Because that 4 MPH differential is meaningless. Who's to say how fast anyone is actually going? A speedometer has some accuracy limitations, as does a radar gun. Even if the radar gun is perfectly calibrated and balls-on-accurate, should the driver be penalized if his speedometer is a little bit off?
Similarly, 2 psi of air pressure is meaningless in this context. How accurate is an air pressure gauge? I'm sure NASA has really good ones, but how fancy are the ones used to measure footballs? Why would anyone make a really fancy football air pressure gauge in the first place?
From a more legitimately empirical perspective, ESPN analyzed balls of different pressure and found no real difference, in my view, beyond the fact that the ball of lesser pressure can me indented 1 mm further.
As you've heard ad nauseum, the Patriots blew the Colts away in the second half using firmer balls, so those 2 psi truly made no difference.
I've done something that no one else who wrote about this nonsense likely did--I went and actually read the NFL rulebook. Rule 2 is titled "The Ball." Section 1, "Ball Dimensions," says in part:
The ball shall be made up of an inflated (12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds) urethane bladder enclosed in a pebble grained, leather case (natural tan color) without corrugations of any kind. It shall have the form of a prolate spheroid and the size and weight shall be: long axis, 11 to 11 1/4 inches; long circumference, 28 to 28 1/2 inches; short circumference, 21 to 21 1/4 inches; weight, 14 to 15 ounces.
What if the Patriots got a batch of balls with leaky bladders? Can that happen to a football (I know it happens to frat guys)? I don't know but it wouldn't surprise me if Wilson makes some duds once in a while.
More surprising: the circumference across the laces can vary by 1/4 inch?!? Doesn't that seem like a big deal? Do the refs measure all of those dimensions in addition to the air pressure? If a ball is too long does the ref say "You got long balls Larry"?
Section 2, "Ball Supply," says in part:
In the event a home team ball does not conform to specifications, or its supply is exhausted, the Referee shall secure a proper ball from the visitors and, failing that, use the best available ball. Any such circumstances must be reported to the Commissioner.
Wait, "failing that, use the best available ball"?!? So if all of the available balls are under-inflated then the ref would just use the "best available" under-inflated ball? Then the rules clearly contemplate using non-conforming balls in certain circumstances! How big a deal could this be? Sure, you have to report this to the Commissioner, but no penalty is specified. Seems like a minor speeding infraction to me.
While going through the NFL rulebook I found some other rules that are also like doing 29 in a 25. For example, Rule 1 Section 1 says in part:
The playing field will be rimmed by a solid white border a minimum of 6 feet wide along the end lines and sidelines .... In addition, within each bench area, a yellow line 6 feet behind the solid white border will delineate a special area for coaches, behind which all players, except one player charting the game, must remain.
Yeah, this is enforced.
Speaking of that Mike Tomlin photo, Rule 13 "Non-Player Conduct" Article 4 says:
The only persons permitted within the solid six-foot white border (1-1) while play is in progress on the field are game officials.
Tomlin was fined by the league in that instance, but I don't think the refs penalized the team during the game. Probably because coaches are in the six-foot white border all the time.
Rule 13 Article 2 is really interesting. It says:
Either or both team attendants and their helpers may enter the field to attend their team during a team timeout by either team. No other non-player may come on the field without the Referee’s permission, unless he is an incoming substitute (5-2-2).
During any team timeout, all playing rules continue in force. Representatives of either team are prohibited from entering the field unless they are incoming substitutes, or team attendants or trainers entering to provide for the welfare of a player, and any game-type activities are prohibited on the Field of Play.
That second paragraph is in red in the rulebook. God knows why. Coaches enter the field just about every time they throw a challenge flag.
Rule 13 says it's a 15 yard penalty if you violate Article 2 but I've never seen it enforced and I think sports talk radio would explode if a ref ever tried. Kind of like if cops started giving tickets for doing 29 in a 25.
I could go on with the rules but you get my drift.
The "Protect The Integrity Of The Game" prong of uproar is farcical. rob already took down the NFL's integrity about two years ago (relying on efforts from Senator Tom Brady nonetheless!). But here are a few more Integrity Of The Game points to ponder.
Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute the night before the Super Bowl. He played in the game. Because prostitution is part of the Integrity Of The Game.
Walter Thurmond was suspended last year on November 24 for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He came back just in time for the playoffs; the rest probably helped him get ready for the post-season and he played in the Super Bowl. Because substance abuse is part of the Integrity Of The Game.
Ray Lewis used something called deer antler spray leading up to the Super Bowl. Apparently it was not on the NFL's list of approved supplements. He played in the game. Because using unapproved substances is part of the Integrity Of The Game. As is obstructing justice in a murder investigation, but that was before a different Ravens Super Bowl.
Leonard Little killed a woman while driving drunk on October 19, 1998. Three and a half months later he recorded four tackles in the Super Bowl. Because killing people is part of the Integrity Of The Game.
I'm starting to veer away from Gheorghe's mission statement so I'll stop with those examples. My point is that somehow or other, the Patriots played with some slightly under-inflated balls for half of the AFC Championship Game. We know that these balls conferred no competitive advantage because they played the second half with firmer balls and cruised to victory, a perfect test/control experiment. No one can currently say why these balls were soft. It could be due to leaky bladders or a crappy gauge or a rogue ball attendant or maybe even Tom Brady is lying and he let the air out clandestinely. It simply doesn't matter. To the extent there is any violation of the league's rules here, it's akin to doing 29 in a 25. People have done much worse but still played in the Super Bowl.
So let's leave Brady's balls alone.