A Closer Look at How Footballs are Treated Before Games

UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel has never used an underdeflated ball, according to Minutemen equipment manager Paul Bys.
UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel has never used an underdeflated ball, according to Minutemen equipment manager Paul Bys. –AP

With information leaking out at a snail’s pace in regards to the NFL’s procedure for identifying and testing the Patriots’ under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game, Boston.com sought out a local expert to get a better understanding of how footballs are treated and tested before games.

Paul Bys is the equipment manager for the University of Massachusetts football team, and he broke down how he handles the footballs his team uses throughout the season. Bys didn’t want to speculate about how NFL equipment managers differ from his style, but the procedure he describes makes it hard to believe the Patriots could have substituted doctored, untested footballs for the balls that were tested prior to the game against the Colts.

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The Minutemen start preseason camp with 30 balls inflated to approximately 13 pounds of air pressure. The better balls are put aside as game balls, while the more scuffed up balls are used strictly as practice balls.

Bys has found that almost every quarterback prefers a newer, fresh feeling ball to a scuffed one. UMass prepares the game balls by wiping down each ball with a little bit of Windex, which removes the sheen from the balls that are fresh from the factory.

Bys said both he and the officials have their own gauges to weigh the balls before games, and officials have a system to ensure that Bys cannot replace any of the approved balls with balls that were not approved before the game.

“The officials, they’ll put their initials on the ball, or an asterisk, or a star, whatever. They put something on there that only they know about so they can identify the approved balls.’’

Bys makes sure to accommodate bad weather by increasing the amount of balls he provides for the games.

“If it’s raining or wet out I’ll give the officials 18, even 24 balls,’’ Bys said. “We like to switch the ball out every 3 or 4 plays, because by the fifth or sixth play that ball that is in play is sopping wet.’’

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“It’s up to the official to rotate the ball,’’ Bys said. “Even if I want to rotate a new ball in, the official can say ‘this ball is fine’ and keep it on the field.’’

Bys said the main advantage to deflating a ball is that it becomes much easier to catch. He said he didn’t know all of the benefits a deflated ball offered to a quarterback throwing the football.

“I don’t know about the throwing,’’ he said, referencing the assumption that it is easier to get a firm grip on a deflated ball. “If you have a man with a big paw, he can put his hand around a basketball.’’

Bys has never had an issue with the amount of air in a football, and says game balls last about 2 or 3 games before they get relegated to practice ball status.

We don’t know the full story with why the Patriots’ footballs were under the legal minimum in the AFC Championship Game. We do know that if the NFL officials are as diligent as the college referees, there are several safeguards in place to prevent this type of rules violation from ever occurring.

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