When Bill Belichick alleged that atmospheric conditions played naturally depressurized footballs back in January, he elicited widespread ridicule in the news media. But the release of the Wells Report affirms his analysis, however rudimentary, as correct.
“I’m not too worried about coach Belichick’s competing with me,” Bill Nye “the Science Guy” told Good Morning America in January. “What he said didn’t make any sense.”
But the Wells Report noted that every ball tested by referees at halftime of the AFC Championship Game—Colts balls and Patriots balls—displayed significantly reduced air pressure. Furthermore, the scientific firm employed by the Wells Report found, just as Bill Belichick said back in January, that balls lost about a pound or more of pressure by halftime.
“We found that once the footballs were on the field over an extended period of time, in other words, they were adjusted to the climatic conditions and also the fact that the footballs reached an equilibrium without the rubbing process, that after that had run its course and the footballs had reached an equilibrium, that they were down approximately one-and-a-half pounds per square inch,” the Patriots head coach maintained to media jeers. “When we brought the footballs back in after that process and re-tested them in a controlled environment as we have here, then those measurements rose approximately one half pound per square inch. So the net of one and a half, back to a half, is approximately one pound per square inch, to one and a half.”
Ted Wells paid the scientific firm Exponent to run the same type of experiments that Dr. Belichick and his lab assistants performed. “According to Exponent,” the Wells Report informs, “based on the most likely pressure and temperature values for the Patriots game balls on the day of the AFC Championship Game (i.e., a starting pressure of 12.5 psi, a starting temperature of between 67 and 71 degrees and a final temperature of 48 degrees), the Ideal Gas Law predicts that the Patriots balls should have measured between 11.52 and 11.32 psi at the end of the first half, just before they were brought back into the Officials Locker Room.”
Sound familiar? It should. Bill Belichick made that exact point in January. Beyond this, the NFL commissioned investigation shows—deep in the report beyond the executive summary and in contradiction to the “probably” guilty conclusion offered as the takeaway—that eight of the 11 Patriots balls tested at 11.32 psi or more by one of the two NFL referees at halftime. In other words, the majority of the balls experienced natural drops in pressure, and not unnatural ones enacted by a needle, by halftime according to at least one of the two NFL referees.
Like the meat of the Wells Report contradicting the executive summary takeaway, not everything upon further investigation is as it appears. Bill Nye isn’t actually a scientist. He played one in a movie once. That role, in the 1998 Disney Channel movie The Principal Takes a Holiday, along with his mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree from Cornell, propelled his interest in science and the public’s interest in him as a “scientist.” But he’s as much of a scientist as Bill Belichick, Wesleyan ’75, is an economist.
“To really change the pressure you need one of these,” Nye insisted to Good Morning America, “the inflation needle.”
According to actual scientists, rather than a guy who played one in a movie, atmospheric pressure works, too.