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Sci-Tech

Patriots coach invokes science in addressing deflated-football dustup

Technically Incorrect: Bill Belichick says he's not a scientist, but he offers a scientific reason why his team's footballs weren't at regulation pressure when Pats beat Colts to head to Super Bowl.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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The New England Patriots' coach is not a scientist, but he can talk like one. Mediaite/ESPN screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When an erudite man tells you: "We all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions," you're likely at a scientific lecture.

However, when the erudite man also tells you: "I am not a scientist," you worry that you've stumbled onto the set of an antacid commercial.

And so it was on Saturday afternoon that science became the leading light in the great controversy of the week. Should you have had both ears incapacitated during a hockey game, you may not know that the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday to get to the Super Bowl.

Sadly, the team was then accused of providing underinflated balls during the first half of the game. (NFL rules have it that footballs must be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 psi, or pounds per square inch.)

The team's star quarterback, Tom Brady, is known to favor softness in his footballs, and 11 out of 12 of the Patriots' balls were deemed underinflated at the half.

Earlier this week, both Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick, provided only claims of ignorance as to why this might have been. They were largely disbelieved, with some former players treating this alleged innocence with something that bordered on contempt.

Today, Belichick stood up in a press conference (recorded by Mediaite) and claimed he'd personally done some research.

His conclusion? Climate change between the locker room, where the balls were allegedly inflated to an approved pressure of 12.5 pounds per square inch, and the field materially affected the firmness of the balls.

He explained that the Patriots' footballs go through a rubbing process. But when that's done, they are handed to the officials. Sounding for all the world like a scientist, Belichick said that the balls would have been resting for a while and therefore: "Once the ball reached its equilibrium state, it probably was closer to 11 and a half."

The not-a-scientist wasn't done. He added: "It's similar to the concept of when you get into your car and the light comes on, and it says low tire pressure because the car's been sitting in the driveway -- outside, overnight -- and you start it up, drive and the light goes off. It's a similar concept to that."

His lecture's summation: "The atmospheric conditions, as well as the true equilibrium of the ball, is critical to the measurement." Belichick underlined that the balls hadn't been inflated in heated conditions.

Ergo, science proves that the Patriots are innocent. Or at least the Patriots' science does.

But wait. Belichick insisted that his own quarterbacks, as part of his experiment, couldn't distinguish between footballs whose pressure differed by 1 psi. This seems odd, as his quarterback had insisted that he can instantly tell when a football feels right.

Scientists have already offered to NPR that a softer ball does offer scientific advantages. And the Patriots have a greater tendency to be disbelieved as they have been caught in miscreant behavior before.

So why didn't Belichick have one of his hometown scientists from Harvard around to help his cause?

Still, how can anyone dispute that, once the team has gone to today's most important arbiter -- science -- innocence is proved?

Personally, I now look forward to every sports network -- and the Discovery Channel -- performing their own scientific experiments in the run-up to the Super Bowl. Research could never have received such a huge opportunity for blanket coverage across America.

One small kink does nag at my cranial areas. Why was there no problem with the balls belonging to the Indianapolis Colts?