The End of Deflategate

All football fans are sick of hearing about "Deflategate." Most made up their minds long before they heard any of the facts disclosed in the report drafted by attorney Ted Wells for the NFL. Few bothered to read either his analysis or the response issued by Patriots attorney Dan Goldberg.

As Tiger Woods once said, "Sensationalism sells: Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story." A Patriots conspiracy was a good story. The media never let the facts get in the way. Troy Vincent, the NFL's Executive VP of Football Operations, did likewise and suspended future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady for one quarter of the 2015 football season.

Assuming someone actually read the entire Wells Report, its legalistic parts focused the attention of readers on the quantum of proof issue under the NFL Rules. It correctly applied the appropriate "preponderance of the evidence" standard, although it ultimately reached a conclusion that was less than resounding. Tom Brady, the Report said, was "at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities" of locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski.

The Deflategate controversy comes to a welcomed conclusion on June 23 when Commissioner Goodell will receive evidence presented by Tom Brady's attorney, Jeff Kessler. (A second date of June 25 is reserved in the event more time is needed.) It is not clear whether the "prosecution" will also present data. The Wells Report is already part of the record.

A new player has now entered the field of play -- the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington-based, right-wing think tank. The AEI's full report is available online, but its conclusion is the equivalent of a completed 75-yard Hail Mary pass. The AEI, which certainly has no political agenda in this football dispute, concludes that the Wells Report is "deeply flawed." Anyone who read the Wells Report and the Goldberg response had already reached that conclusion. What is particularly telling about the AEI's study is that it offers an alternate explanation for the actual facts.

As readers of a certain age certainly remember, Deep Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein to "follow the money." Regarding the Deflategate contretemps, the more appropriate maxim is to "follow the science." The science in the Wells Report is unsound. That is exactly what Patriots owner Bob Kraft told the press back in January after he consulted with a Nobel Prize winner on the faculty of M.I.T. Commissioner Goodell might need a neutral expert to explain the methodology used by the various scientists who are involved in this scrum, but his ultimate conclusion, if he actually approaches the appeal with an open mind, is clear "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The AEI Report explains that the deflation of the footballs used by the Patriots in the first half of the American Conference Championship game was the result of the difference in temperature in the locker room and out on the field. "The Patriots balls were measured at the start of halftime, whereas the Colts balls were measured at the end of halftime, after sufficient time had passed for the balls to warm up and return to their pregame pressure." There is no direct or circumstantial evidence that the Patriots intentionally deflated the footballs below the limit set by the NFL rules.

The NFL cannot be blamed for the trap that the rival team set for the Patriots during the January playoff game. The Commissioner, however, has to find a way out of this mess. He need not blame Ted Wells, who had served his client well. He need not chastise Troy Vincent for the four-game suspension of the NFL's golden boy. He need only blame the science and conclude that it is insufficient to support any suspension. He can save face by imposing a fine on QB12 for not fully cooperating with the NFL's investigation by not supplying his cell phone. Any other outcome would add another self-imposed scar on the NFL's reputation and an unwarranted blemish on the reputation of one of the game premier competitors.