Friday, May 08, 2015

Reading the Ted Wells report - Executive Summary

I am literally baffled that people seem to think that this report offers conclusive proof of anything.  And yet reporters around the country are piling on.  More evidence that the media isn't terribly rigorous with what stories they run.  Anywhere, here it goes...

Executive Summary

p.1 (p.5 of pdf)
"All eleven of the Patriots game balls tested measured below the minimum pressure level of 12.5 pounds per square inch (“psi”) allowed by Rule 2 of the Official Playing Rules of the National Football League (the “Playing Rules”) on both of two air pressure gauges used to test the balls."

Already the report is acting like it's the responsibility of the Patriots to keep balls at a certain pressure level during the game.  But it isn't.  The only thing the Patriots are obliged to do is provide balls pressurized to a level between 12.5 and 13.5 psi to the officials before the game starts.  Even then there is no sanction if a ball is over- or under-inflated.  It's up to the officials to adjust the pressure so the ball falls in the desired range.

Aside: let's remember what Chris Mortensen was told
The investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what's required by NFL regulations during the Pats' 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, according to sources. 
Well, that turned out to be untrue, as we'll see soon.

 For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation,
we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.
This "more probable than not" language is diabolical.  The league doesn't have to actually prove anything.  The rule change that allows the league to use a lower standard for the burden of proof was put in by Goodell after "Spygate".  I would argue that, given how many of Goodell's rulings have been overturned by courts in recent years, that this change hasn't been in the NFL's best interests.

In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.
Well, gee, if you're going to destroy the reputations of a couple flunkies, you might want actual evidence.

Rule 2 of the Official Playing Rules of the NFL requires that footballs used during
NFL games must be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 psi.
This is where we start to get into problems.  The rules specify that the teams are required to provide balls at a certain air pressure.  But, thanks to gas laws, on cold days balls will tend to lose air pressure.  But teams are not allowed to keep balls warm in order to make sure the pressure stays constant.  (The lack of understanding of the physics of air pressure is going to be a constant theme here.)

Let's recall what happened back in November:

As both teams dealt with the freezing temperatures, Fox cameras showed sideline attendants using heaters to warm up game balls, which is against league rules. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Monday morning on NFL Network that officials warned both the Vikings and Panthers not to heat up the balls during Sunday's game, and would remind teams this week not to heat game balls.
So teams have an impossible task here: they are not allowed to keep the footballs warm, but the air pressure is supposed to stay in the range from 12.5 to 13.5 psi?

Gas Law
There are many versions of the laws governing the behaviors of gases.  For our purposes, we'll focus on what's known as Amontons' Law of Pressure-Temperature

From the Wikiepedia entry:


where:P is the pressure of the gas,
T is the temperature of the gas (measured in kelvin).
k is a constant.

The problem, as we see here, is that as temperature varies, air pressure will also vary.  BTW, the pressure P above is the absolute pressure of the air inside the ball.  A pressure gauge only measures the difference between the air inside the ball and the air pressure outside (which is 14.7 psi at sea level).  So when you see 12.5 psi, that's the gauge pressure, which means that the pressure inside the ball is really 27.2 psi.

I'm picturing a scene sometime next season when a coach on a cold day demands of the refs that the footballs get switched out, simply because the air pressures are too low.

Anyway.  Back to the report.

p. 4
"Unknown to Anderson, and without Anderson‟s permission or the permission of any other member of the officiating crew, McNally had taken the balls from the Officials Locker Room towards the playing field."
This is the weird part.  I find it hard to believe that this is the first time McNally simply grabbed the balls and took them away.  I also find it hard to imagine how he did so with nobody noticing.  The locker room isn't that large.  I suspect some CYA is involved here.  I don't think this is really "the first time in 19 years" that this has happened.

To put this in perspective, I now have to bring in this bit: Ryan Grigson, GM of the Colts, sent an email to the league before the game.

“As far as the gameballs are concerned it is well known around the league that after the Patriots gameballs are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys for the patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don‟t get an illegal advantage,” 
Mind you, back in February the league denied this.

This is weird.  The league apparently decided that they didn't want to be seen in a light where trapping the Patriots was more important to them than ensuring that the AFC championship game was fair.  But that appears to be exactly what they did.  What I find really bizarre is that, on a day when they were supposed to be alert about any possible tampering with the footballs, they let McNally walk out the door with exactly the bag of footballs they were supposed to be monitoring.

Let's just treat this as another case of Goodell lying.

Moving forward.

The next two pages concern text messages that are supposed to be damning.

It starts with discussion of a complaint by Brady after the Jets' game.

p. 5

Jastremski: I checked some of the balls this morn... The refs fucked
us...a few of then were at almost 16
Jastremski: They didnt recheck then after they put air in them
McNally: Fuck tom ...16 is nothing...wait till next sunday
Jastremski: Omg! Spaz

It's clear here that, contrary to the basic thrust of the accusation, nobody here tampered with the balls at the Jets game.  The refs inflated them to "almost 16" and didn't re-check them.  And Brady was livid.  From  here on, Brady made a point to get the balls inflated to the minimum allowed level.

Then there is a bit where it seems that McNally is demanding payment of a sort to do his job.

Jastremski: I have a big needle for u this week
McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks....or its a rugby
 What this doesn't say is either that McNally intends to set the pressure below 12.5 or that he intends to do so after the balls are in the refs' custody.

This is bolstered by a text exchange from May:

McNally: Nice dude....jimmy needs some kicks....lets make a
deal.....come on help the deflator
McNally: Chill buddy im just fuckin with you not going to
There is a problem, though.  If this is supposed to be evidence that McNally was engaged in illegal ball deflation as early as May, what happened during the Jets game?
McNally really should explain what these messages mean.

"During a pre-game conversation concerning various game-day topics, Riveron told referee Walt Anderson that a concern had been raised about the air pressure of the game balls. Anderson told Riveron that he would be sure to follow his usual ball inspection procedure to ensure that the balls were properly inflated."

How, then, did the balls leave his sight?  Weird.

p. 8  A table of air pressure measurements.  Note that the measurements from the two gauges vary by a lot.  Between 0.35 and 0.5 for ball.  What's weirder is that for the Patriots' balls, the Prioleau gauge is consistently higher, while for the Colts' balls, the Blakeman gauge is higher.  Except for Ball #3, which the analysis then discards.  [Wait - they just discarded 1/4 of their measurements for the Colts' balls, as if this is no big deal?]

p. 10, bottom
In addition, Exponent found that the gauges used on the day of the AFC Championship Game appear to have worked reliably and consistently.
Joking, right?


Our scientific consultants informed us that the data alone did not provide a basis for them to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is ultimately dependent upon assumptions and information that is uncertain.
And really, that should be the end of it.   But...

Based on the testing and analysis, however, Exponent concluded that, within the range of likely game conditions and circumstances studied, they could identify no set of credible environmental or physical factors that completely accounts for the Patriots halftime measurements or for the additional loss in air pressure exhibited by the Patriots game balls, as compared to the loss in air pressure exhibited by the Colts game balls.
So, based on "likely" conditions, it is "unlikely" that the loss of air pressure can be explained by environmental factors or physical factors.  So far we have dodgy gauges and assumptions made about the "likely" conditions that are going to be purported to be so all-encompassing that the air pressure loss cannot be explained.

That's rich.

p. 13

Our conclusion that it is more probable than not that McNally and Jastremski participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were tested by the game officials is significantly influenced by the substantial number of communications and events consistent with such a finding, including that the same person (Jim McNally) referred to himself as the “deflator” and stated that he was “not going to espn……..yet,” was involved in a series of communications about his impact on the inflation-level of Patriots game balls and using a “needle” surrounded by cash and sneakers (when his legitimate responsibilities as a locker room attendant did not involve the preparation, inflation or deflation of footballs),
But we've seen nothing indicating that these guys were involved in a "deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were tested by game officials."  Being merely consistent with such a scheme hardly matters at all.  The texts are also consistent with an explanation that is less nefarious.

p. 14

This gets ridiculous.  Apparently it's suspicious that the people being accused of cheating talked to each other.  That's a positively Stasi attitude to have.

p. 15
Now we see nouns substituted for pronouns.

Text messages most plausibly read as describing a conversation between Jastremski and Brady during which Brady mentioned McNally and said that McNally must have “a lot of stress” trying to get the footballs “done” (“Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done...”).
Notice that "he" becomes Tom Brady and "get them done" becomes "deflating the footballs."  Jastremski claims that this text wasn't even about Tom Brady, and that "get them done" referred to getting tickets for a friend, not deflating footballs.

BTW, it must be conceded that McNally is a shitty witness.

p. 16

When interviewed, McNally claimed, among other things, that he brings game balls to the field when he deems fit, that he generally does not receive permission from or inform the game officials before leaving the Officials Locker Room and taking game balls to the field and that he often has taken game balls into the tunnel bathroom near the entrance to the playing field. We do not find these claims plausible and they were contradicted by other evidence developed during the investigation. Counsel for the Patriots also contended that the text messages between McNally and Jastremski referring to the inflation levels of footballs and related topics were not serious and should be seen as nothing more than attempts at humor and hyperbole. We also find these claims not plausible.
This is where the report really starts to go off the rails.  They think McNally is lying about his job responsibilities?  They also claim that said responsibilities do not include prepping the balls, while simultaneously saying that he is 'the deflator'.  To believe the Wells report, one has to think that referees are very focused on whether balls leave their sight.  But we have no evidence of that at all.  It seems more likely to me that the referees are generally uninterested in what the ball boys do once the balls have been tested, but that when the focus of the league is on their activities, the refs are going to pretend that they always follow the rules to the letter.

That they would treat the text messages above as proof of actual bribery and something more than joking is ludicrous.  I wonder if the people at the Ted Wells office actually believe that claim themselves.  There's a reason it's called "locker room humor".

p. 19

Brady has also acknowledged publicly that he likes game balls inflated at the low end of the permissible range. The inflation level of game balls clearly is important to Brady, as demonstrated by his reaction when he believed that game balls were inflated at an undesirable level. In addition, Brady personally was involved in the 2006 rule change that allowed visiting teams to prepare game balls in accordance with the preferences of their quarterbacks. During the process of advocating that rule change, it is reasonable to infer that Brady was likely to be (or become) familiar with the NFL rules regarding game balls, including the 12.5 psi minimum inflation level, although Brady denies having been aware of Rule 2 or the minimum inflation level until 2014 (despite approximately fourteen years as an NFL quarterback).
You know, Donovan McNabb didn't even know about ties.

It's weird how these things develop.  On Jan 1, I'm pretty sure nobody knew what the range of allowable psi's was.  Now not only do all football fans know that, they also are certain that everybody else always has done so, too.

Regardless, there's a huge gap between "wanting balls at 12.5 psi before the game starts" and "wanting balls deflated to below 12.5 psi after they've been checked by the officials."  We have plenty of evidence for the former and none for the latter.

Counsel for the Patriots, however, refused to make Jim McNally available for a follow-up interview requested by our investigative team on what we believed were important topics, despite our offer to meet at any time and location that would be convenient for McNally. Counsel for the Patriots apparently refused even to inform McNally of our request.
Bob Kraft says McNally was interviewed four times and that the team thought that was enough.
At some point an employee is simply being harrassed.  I don't doubt that subsequent interviews would have consisted solely of more pressure being applied on McNally to "confess" and to implicate Tom Brady.

p. 21
Similarly, although Tom Brady appeared for a requested interview and answered
questions voluntarily, he declined to make available any documents or electronic information (including text messages and emails) that we requested, even though those requests were limited to the subject matter of our investigation (such as messages concerning the preparation of game balls, air pressure of balls, inflation of balls or deflation of balls) and we offered to allow Brady‟s counsel to screen and control the production so that it would be limited strictly to responsive materials and would not involve our taking possession of Brady‟s telephone or other electronic devices.
The NFL does not have the right under the CBA to demand that a player hand over his phone records or emails.  As Brady's agent explained, this isn't just about him.  As a member of a union,  he's under pressure to not unilaterally make concessions to the league without union approval.  Moreover, given the direction that the investigation was turning, it seems unlikely that such a step would have been to Brady's advantage.  After all, there is cooperation and there's waiving one's right to privacy.

At various points in the investigation, counsel for the Patriots questioned the
integrity and objectivity of game officials, various NFL executives and certain NFL Security representatives present at the AFC Championship Game or otherwise involved in the investigative process. We found no evidence to substantiate the questions raised by counsel. Specifically, we identified no evidence of any bias or unfairness.
And yet no statement from Tom Brady is included in this report.

Then we reach page 22 when it starts again.

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