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A Miami equipment manger’s perspective on “Deflategate”

Linski's List

By Justin Maskulinski, Columnist

"Deflategate" is the top storyline in the NFL heading into the Super Bowl.

The AFC Champion New England Patriots are being investigated by the NFL because many of their game balls in the 45-7 thumping of the Indianapolis Colts were under-inflated by as much as two pounds. An under-inflated football would be slightly easier to grip for running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks.

That being said, this is more of an issue of sportsmanship than anything else. Because it's the Patriots (or Deflatriots, as the clever minds of the Internet have renamed them) people are going to immediately assume they were cheating, though nothing has been proven. The Patriots were the better team in the game regardless of air pressure, but playing outside of the rules is never acceptable.

I am a student equipment manager for Miami's football team and I have prepared game balls many times in my three years here. I was a ball boy during my freshman year, and I've worked alongside the quarterbacks the past two years. Here's the life of a Miami game ball:

The ball is selected by a quarterback based on their preferences: For example; former Miami quarterback Andrew Hendrix preferred a newer football just barely broken-in. Redshirt senior quarterback Drew Kummer likes the older, much more broken-in footballs. During practice, if one of them tells me that they really liked how a certain ball felt, I would take note of it.

Regardless of their preferences on the texture of the ball, one thing is always the same at Miami: the PSI. It is always 13.

Before every game the footballs are pumped up to 13 pounds per square inch and taken to the referees a few hours before the game begins. Then, we do not see them again until just before kickoff. The referees bring them out after they are inspected and approved.

During warmups, the team doesn't use the game balls, at least not in the 36 college football games I have worked. The referees check the game balls, and if one of them does not pass inspection, it is not allowed to enter the game or the referees will inflate the football to the proper PSI. I can't remember a time where I've seen one rejected, but I know the referees check them because they mark on the white stripes of the ball. Either the date of the game, initials or a line will indicate that a ball has been approved. The footballs that are approved are used in the game.

At Miami, the footballs that are chosen to be game balls at the beginning of the year are used throughout the entire season. Before each game the footballs are brushed and may even be waxed in order to keep them at their peak texture.

Bill Belichick's statements about deflategate were believable. He really has no reason to concern himself with the air pressure of the footballs. He has a game to coach. The fact that he scheduled a press conference to announce the scientific experiments the Patriots performed helped his cause. Belichick is typically very short with the media, and on Saturday he was extremely thorough. Many analysts have poked holes in his arguments and atmospheric findings, but he did not have to address this again. He chose to. He does not believe the Patriots cheated, and he wanted to make that clear.

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Do I buy the scientific explanation? Well, even Belichick said he isn't a scientist. It'll be fun to watch it unfold.

Tom Brady seemed sincere, too, but I can't help but doubt that he had no involvement whatsoever. Quarterbacks care about how the game balls feel, and they should.

A member of the Patriots game day staff would have no reason to alter a ball in any way unless a player approached them.

As I said earlier, I was only a ball boy during my freshman year. I never even thought for a second about tampering with a game ball illegally. I was never asked to and I know everyone I work with would never cheat either. Occasionally, a football's texture would fail to meet the quarterback's preferences before a game and we simply choose not to put that ball in play.

The takeaway from deflategate, if it was intentional, is that it's cheating and unethical. Based on the end result of the game it was probably unnecessary too.

I hope that deflategate and spygate do not take anything away from the great teams that the Patriots have had in the last fifteen years, but I know they will to some extent. I also hope that the focus in the next week is on an intriguing Super Bowl matchup.

I'm sure the balls will be properly inflated this time.