Physics professor: Deflategate report’s science holds up

With Wednesday’s report, denial just got a lot harder for Patriots fans.
With Wednesday’s report, denial just got a lot harder for Patriots fans. –AP

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The 243-page Deflategate report released Wednesday, which included independent analysis by two sources, was a big blow to those holding out hope science would exonerate the Patriots.

But could there be any holes to the analysts’ logic? Not likely, says Boston University professor Martin Schmaltz.

While the ideal gas law states air pressure in a given volume will drop along with temperature – and the balls used in the AFC Championship game likely dropped in temperature when moved from inside the stadium to the 51-degree field – the discrepancies between drops in pressure between the Colts balls and the Patriots balls was likely too much to be chance, according to Schmaltz.

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“I see that the Colts’ balls pressure dropped about half a PSI and the Patriots balls seem to be more like 1.5, or maybe between one and 1.5,’’ says Schmaltz. “So it’s a little mysterious why the Patriots’ balls dropped more.’’

According to the report, the Patriots’ balls began the game inflated to at least 12.5 PSI, while the Colts’ balls were around 13 PSI, give or take a tenth of a PSI. But it’s not the drop in PSI from that reference point that Schmaltz says looks bad for the Patriots, but the drops relative to each other.

According to Schmaltz, the ideal gas law equation suggests a drop in temperature from 68 or 70 would produce a drop of less than 1 PSI in a ball inflated to 12.5 or 13 PSI. While the report found the Colts’ balls measured at or around the league-minimum 12.5 PSI at halftime, many of the Patriots balls were a PSI or more below that threshold, a drop so large its unlikely to have been caused by atmospheric conditions.

While a 12.5 PSI ball could drop to 11.6 PSI, by his calculations, with a temperature drop from 68 or 70 degrees to 51, given both sets being subject to the same conditions, it’s suspicious the Patriots’ balls would drop so much further.

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“The Patriots’ balls are around there, some are a little bit low, so the Patriots’ balls are not inconsistent with having been deflated by going down in temperature,’’ he says. “But it is very mysterious just based on why the Colts balls didn’t drop as much and the Patriots’ balls did.’’

Given the exactness with which the analysts approached their study and the other evidence found by investigators, Schmaltz said the conclusion two equipment managers likely tampered with the footballs is an apt one.

“A lot of the text message stuff, that looks pretty damning to me,’’ Schmaltz says. ‘The science I don’t think is a slam dunk in terms of convicting them, but it also looks much more likely (than not) this was done just based on the science.’’

Want to do that science yourself? Check out this pressure calculator Schmaltz made shortly after allegations first surfaced in January.

Timeline of Deflategate Controversy

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