Belichick says he’s ‘shocked’ footballs were underinflated

Keywords Sports Business

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday he was shocked to learn that footballs his team supplied for the American Football Conference championship game weren’t inflated properly and that he didn’t have an explanation for why that happened.

Belichick and the Patriots face possible suspensions, fines and could be stripped of draft picks if a National Football League investigation finds the team broke rules by deflating footballs used in its win over the Indianapolis Colts.

“In my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure,” Belichick said at a televised news conference. “That is not a subject that I have ever brought up. To me, the footballs are approved by the league and officials pregame and we play with what’s out there.”

The NFL’s game operations manual says if a game ball is altered after it has been approved by the referee, the person responsible “and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000.”

The NFL’s probe found that 11 of the 12 balls supplied by the Patriots and used by their offense in the 45-7 win on Jan. 18 were inflated by about 2 pounds per square inch below the league’s 12.5 to 13.5 PSI requirement, according to ESPN.

‘Deflategate’

The incident has become known as “Deflategate” on social media and the NFL is trying to determine whether the Patriots deliberately sought to gain a competitive advantage or compromised the integrity of the most popular U.S. sport. Belichick said the Patriots have been cooperating with the NFL’s investigation.

“I had no knowledge whatsoever about this situation until Monday morning,” Belichick, 62, said. “I’ve learned a lot more about this process in past three days than I knew or had talked about in the last 40 years I’ve coached in this league. I had no knowledge of the various steps in the game balls.”

Footballs that are underinflated can be easier for a quarterback to throw and receivers to catch, particularly in wet or cold conditions. A steady rain fell throughout the Patriots’ win that sent New England to next week’s Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. In those conditions, a fully inflated ball can feel hard and is more difficult to grip, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner said.

Better grip

“If you take a little bit of air out of it where you can really compress it with your hand and it can create a little better grip,” said Warner, now an analyst for the NFL Network. “At the same time, I’ve played with some balls that were underinflated. And sometimes there’s too much give to them that it can cause you to have some bad throws as well. It is a lot about preference, but in certain weather conditions it could give you a bit of an advantage.”

Belichick has won three Super Bowl titles during his tenure in New England, yet is also remembered for the $500,000 fine he received for violating league rules in 2007, the biggest ever given to an NFL coach. Belichick and the Patriots were fined a combined $750,000 and lost a first-round draft choice for videotaping opposing teams’ signals.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time that it was a deliberate attempt to avoid rules encouraging fair play and honest competition on the playing field. After the Patriots’ videotaping scandal known as “Spygate,” Belichick told the Boston Globe he felt there was a gray area in the NFL rules and that he made a mistake by misinterpreting them.

No NFL comment

The NFL has confirmed its investigation into allegations the Patriots used underinflated balls in the AFC championship, yet won’t comment further on its findings.

Each team supplies 12 balls to the referee two hours and 15 minutes before each game. Those balls can be rubbed down by equipment managers, but can’t be altered once approved by the referee and given to the ball attendants for each team.

The balls supplied by the Colts for the AFC title game fell within the required levels, according to ESPN. All of the balls had been inspected and approved by referee Walt Anderson before the game, ESPN said.

The Colts had concerns that the Patriots were using underinflated balls following their regular-season home loss to New England on Nov. 16, ESPN reported. Colts safety Mike Adams intercepted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady twice in that game and the balls were saved by the team’s equipment manager.

Colts’ questions

In the AFC championship game, the Colts notified NFL officials that a ball used by the Patriots’ offense seemed not fully inflated after a second-quarter interception by Indianapolis linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in the second quarter, Newsday of New York reported.

“It’s unfortunate this is a story coming off two great playoff victories by our team, by our players,” Belichick said. “But we’ve been cooperative with the NFL investigation and will continue to do so.”

Brady is scheduled to talk with reporters late Thursday afternoon in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Belichick started his news conference by discussing the situation for about eight minutes and said he regularly uses footballs that are in poor condition during practices to make things as challenging as possible for his players.

Bad balls

“Any current or past player will tell you that the balls we practice with are as bad as they can be — wet, sticky, cold, slippery,” Belichick said. “However bad we can make them, I make them. Anytime players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make them worse and that stops the complaining. We never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. I want the players to deal with a harder situation in practice than they ever will have to in a game.”

Belichick said now that he knows about the inflation specifications for game balls, the Patriots would take steps to avoid a similar situation in the future. Jim Daopoulos, who spent 11 years as an on-field official and 12 years supervising referees, has said footballs can deflate a bit in cold weather during the course of a game.

“Obviously with our balls being inflated to the 12 1/2 pound range, any deflation would take us under that specification limit,” Belichick said. “Knowing that now, we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game.”

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