Monday, January 26, 2015

Football Watch update: Coach Bill the Science Guy seems to be stronger on football than on science


The New Yorker's "Daily Cartoon" for Friday, January 23rd

by Ken

Okay, we get it. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick really, really doesn't care for the NFL front office. He thinks they don't like him, and try their darnedest to make his job harder, whlie they're screwing up stuff they're supposed to be doing. Also, he wishes this whole confounded Deflate-gate thing would go away, and since he gets that he can't ignore it or just wish it away, he finally decided to tackle it head on, sort of.

Now in his dim opinion of the league office, who's to say he isn't on to something? The Fiscal Extraction Dept. seems on top of its game, but otherwise the league hasn't been showing itself to stellar advantage in recent times. And certainly one understands that people in hsi organization understand that their jobs include doing whatever falls within their job description to do everything possible to maximize the team's chances of winning. And so maybe it wasn't entirely a coincidence that 11 of those 12 footballs officials impounded after the Pats' 45-7 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts in the NFC Championship game apparently came up clearly under the league-mandated minimum air pressure.

The league says every team supplies the game balls it will use for a game, subject to pregame checks, and so if there's any way a team can massage those balls to its advantage within the rules, well, it would be irresponsible of the team's people responsible for preparing the balls not to do it. The Pats' balls, alas, seem to have fallen to an eerie extent outside the rules, however, and this is a problem. It was promptly noted that those under-inflated balls are widely thought to be easier for receivers to handle and hold onto, especially in wet conditions. Well, the team is likely set to do what it did back when its people got caught spying electronically on opponents. Everybody does it, they said, but they paid the fine and moved on.

Unfortunately, Coach Bill, who clearly has one of the great minds in the history of the game for focusing all aspects of his team's operation on maximizing the chances of winning, isn't so adept at public-relations niceties. And the worst time to be fumbling your way through a mess like this is in that first week of the two-week gap between the conference championsihps and the Super Bowl, when media stiffs have next to nothing to do, and are apt to be reduced to interviewing one another.

Coach's first line of defense, that he had never spent a day of his life thinking about the internal air pressure of game footballs, was a nonstarter, because clearly somebody in his organization clearly had been devoting a lot of thought to the subject and was spending a lot of time before every game doing something about it. As, again, they should be. I don't think anyone was suggesting that Deflate-gate was his personally concocted scheme. But did he really expect anyone to believe that he runs an operation where nobody deals with the question?

So naturally Coach Bills' next move was to make it worse. As reported:
During Saturday's impromptu meeting with reporters, Bill Belichick said more than once that he wasn't a scientist. But he sure sounded like someone who had been buried in his lab conducting experiments when detailing measures he and members of his staff took to simulate the team's steps to prepare game balls.

Their conclusion was that part of their preparation process -- perhaps the way they rub down the balls to get them to the preferred texture -- raises the air pressure inside the balls.
I hope you're strapped in, because we've got a rocky science ride coming up.
“We simulated a game-day situation in terms of the preparation of the footballs and where the balls [were] at various [points] in the day or night, as the case was Sunday,” Belichick said Saturday. “I would say that our preparation process for the footballs is what we do -- I can’t speak for anybody else, it’s what we do -- and that [preparation] process we have found raises the PSI approximately 1 pound [per square inch]. That process of creating a tackiness, a texture, the right feel, whatever that feel is, a sensation for the quarterback, that process elevates the PSI approximately 1 pound [per square inch] based on what our study showed, which was multiple footballs, multiple examples in the process as we would do for a game. It’s not one football.

“Now, we all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions, it’s a function of that. So, if there’s activity in the ball relative to the rubbing process, I think that explains why when we gave them to the officials and the officials put it at 12.5 [PSI] if that’s in fact what they did, that once the ball reached its equilibrium state, it probably was closer to 11.5 [PSI]. ... So the atmospheric conditions as well as the true equilibrium of the football is critical to the measurement.”

Asked further about his research, Belichick invited others to replicate his experiment.

“The situation is the preparation of the ball caused the ball to I would say be artificially high in PSI when it was set at the regulated level and it reached its equilibrium at some point later on, an hour or two hours into the game whatever it was,” he said. “That level was below what it was set in this climatic condition. I think that’s exactly what happened. And I think anybody that wants to do those experiments should go ahead and do them themselves. Don’t take my word for it. I’m telling you, we are trying to get to an answer to this and that’s what we have.”
Well, Good Morning America called on Bill Nye for his thoughts, and the Science Guy isn't impressed.

"What he said didn't make any sense," says the real Science Guy. He doesn't see how rubbing the ball can change the internal air pressure. For that, he says, you would need to use an inflation needle to change the amount of air inside.

And there it stands. Unless we get really lucky, the Super Bowl will go ahead as scheduled Sunday after the usual 11 hours of pregame festivities. We may yet look back nostalgically on Deflate-gate.

DWT SCHEDULE NOTE: Next post at 11am PT/2pm ET



At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have two nits to expand upon, needlessly, in keeping with the cosmic significance of this high controversy. I both agree and disagree with Bill Nye.

In agreement, Coach B clearly makes no sense in what he is quoted as having said. Coach B's words included brushes with some key elements of physical truth but the entire message was utterly and hopelessly garbled. As successful as he has been in his career, one lesson that we can garner is that Coach B must communicate to his staff/players in some way distinct from spoken English.

I disagree on Nye's assessment that only adding air to the balls could increase the pressure. (This according to the post's summary of Nye's comments as I did not watch the video.)

One does not need to add air to a ball to increase the pressure of the air inside the ball. Remember: (write on your arm, if necessary) PV=nRT. The only parameters that can vary here, assuming no leaks, are T=temperature and P=pressure. When either P or T goes up, so must the other.

One, instead, needs only to heat the air inside the ball, which the friction of extensive & vigorous rubbing of the ball could do. Of course, the leather of the ball must be heated first and the rate of heat imparted to the leather (then to the air inside the ball) must be greater than the simultaneous rate of loss of heat to the air outside the ball.

But the point is, if said rubbing heats (& increases pressure) it is only to an extent essentially undetectable with the measuring devices, I assume, are used by NFL officials for this matter, even if the measurement were taken immediately after the rubbing was finished.

Of course, this tiny heating/pressure effect would be completely gone if any length of time had passed between ball "rubbing" and pre-game measurement of pressure. That is, if the miniscule temperature rise imparted by rubbing had time to dissipate as the balls equilibrated to ambient temperature.

Of course, balls at outside, game-playing temperature, presumably colder than pre-game officials' locker room temperature, would thus have lower than pre-game pressure. This would be expected to be readily detectable, certainly if measured on the field after the game. The balls' pressure would gradually rise to pre-game pressure, assuming the post-game measuring temperature were the same as pre-game.

Under this scenario, and that allude to by Coach B, the Colts' balls, during game, also had lower pressure than they did in the (assumed) warmer measuring room. Not as low, of course, as if the a staff member had used an inflation needle to let some air out of the balls ("n" in the equation, above), after pre-game measurement. This is one explanation of the Patriots' situation, controlling for other effects outlined herein.

Unanswered questions:
1) are balls' pressures always measured after games? If so, is there a penalty for discrepancy?
2) is the temperature at pre-game pressure measurement recorded AND are the balls allowed to return to that temperature before post-game measure?
3) does the NFL specify, as they should, pre-game ball pressures that take into account the difference in temperature between the pre-game measuring room and, say, the predicted, average, stadium game-time temperature?
4) how long was the wait between the end of the game and the measurement of the Patriots' balls' pressure?
5) was the post-game measurement in the same place (temperature) as the pre-game measurement?
6) how did the Colts' balls make out in this saga? Were they treated exactly as were the Patriots' balls?
7) can an 8%(?) pressure difference account for a 35-point score differential?
8) what is to keep a team, say the Colt's from both letting air out of the balls immediately before the game and reinserting air into them after the game?
9) would you forward my email to the NFL if they are interested in my solution to this problem "going forward"?

Disclosure: I prefer Seattle in the Super Ball Bowl.

John Puma


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