The debate continues over how the New England Patriots footballs deflated — thus making them easier to grip for passes and catches — during the team’s most recent game, despite being one of the more ridiculous controversies to ever come out of the NFL. In the latest development, Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” weighed in on Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s recent comments on the controversy.
Saying that Belichick’s explanation “didn’t make sense,” Nye told ABC News that the coach’s suggestion that rubbing the footballs during pre-game preparation contributed to the deflation wasn’t possible. He then confirmed his allegiance to the Patriots’ rival in the upcoming Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks.
However, the former television host of Bill Nye the Science Guy didn’t appear to address the very real scientific fact that Belichick cited as the primary reason for the balls losing air pressure: That footballs (and tires and just about anything else you fill with air) do indeed lose air pressure when moved from one environment to a significantly colder environment.
With NFL referees checking the balls’ inflation indoors and cold-weather teams like the Patriots then bringing them outdoors ahead of the game, deflation is to be expected — especially when the new environment is 20-30 degrees colder, as it was in the recent AFC Championship game being discussed. It’s the reason why vehicle tires often need to be re-inflated during the winter months in many regions, and the sort of basic physics that scientists have found themselves surprisingly in-demand to confirm over the last week or so since the “controversy” became the media’s seemingly sole focus in the run-up to the Super Bowl.
“If you take a football at room temperature and take it outside to a cold playing field, the ball pressure will go down every time,” explained Richard P. Binzel, professor of planetary science at MIT, in a recent interview about the controversy. “This is true not just at Foxborough but at every playing field, whether here on Earth or all the way out to Pluto.”
As reported by the Boston Globe, Pittsburgh-based research company HeadSmart Labs recently conducted its own study on the effect that environmental conditions can have on football inflation, and found that the weather and field conditions at the game in question support a drop in air pressure close to the 2.0 psi differential that sparked the controversy.
“We took 12 brand-new authentic NFL footballs and exposed them to the different elements they would have experienced throughout the game,” said HeadSmart Labs founder Thomas Healy in a press release announcing the results of their study. “Out of the 12 footballs we tested, we found that, on average, footballs dropped 1.8 psi when being exposed to dropping temperatures and wet conditions.”
Still, Nye’s response to Belichick seemed to ignore the tried-and-true scientific relationship between temperature and air pressure, suggesting that footballs don’t abide by the laws of physics that apply to other inflated objects.
“I don’t think you can change the pressure,” said Nye. “To really change the pressure, you need one of these, the inflation needle.”
Nye concluded his questionable “debunking” of Belichick’s explanation by revealing where his loyalties lie in the upcoming game, exclaiming, “Go Seahawks!”