NFL legalizes deflated footballs
NEW YORK — The National Football League on Thursday legalized the deflation of footballs at the discretion of quarterbacks.
The ruling comes after a league report on Wednesday revealed that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady “was at least generally aware” that the air pressure in game balls had been illegally reduced during the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January. Underinflating the ball makes it easier to catch and hold.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell justified the rule change, saying it “was in the best interest of the game.”
“Evidence in the report suggests that Tom Brady and the Patriots might have taken similar actions in previous games,” Goodell said. “Well, clearly, it works. Have you seen how good they are? They won the Super Bowl.”
Under the new rule, quarterbacks can consort with equipment managers and other team employees to alter the footballs at any point during the game, or do it at their own discretion with a portable pump that will be legal for the quarterback to carry on the field.
“We think this will make the game more of an explosive score-fest,” Goodell said. “That’s what the fans — and the quarterbacks — want.”
However, all deflationary activities must fall within the confines of the normal play clock, or the offense will face a five-yard delay-of-game penalty.
“Infractions have consequences,” Goodell said.
The rule also deregulates the NFL’s football chain of custody. Previously, officials kept watch over boxes of fresh footballs prior to a game, then allowed equipment managers to make specific legal modifications to particular footballs in a given time frame.
“That’s complicated,” Goodell said. “And enforcing that protocol was taking the officials’ minds off what’s really important — making sure the quarterback is sufficiently protected from head injuries and fumbles.”
In creating the new rule, Goodell consulted with a wide-ranging group that included Patriots head coach Bill Belichick; Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft; Brady; and several members of the Patriots support staff.
“We deliberated until we were all on the same page,” Goodell said. “Consensus is vital to the integrity of the league.”
The rule will apply only to Brady.