Behind The ScenesESPN Sport ScienceStarting 5

Deflategate gets Sport Science treatment

ESPN Sport Science provides some perspective on how "deflated" footballs might affect the passing game.
Host John Brenkus and his ESPN Sport Science team provide some perspective on how “deflated” footballs might affect the passing game.

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Now in its fourth day, the supposed “Deflategate” story surrounding the New England Patriots has shown no signs of slowing down. With all this talk of grip, deflation and velocity and subjects foreign to the average sports fan, John Brenkus and his Emmy-award winning ESPN Sport Science team brought some science into the discussion.

The results, according to Brenkus, indicated that “. . . based on our analysis, under-inflated balls had a minuscule effect on any given play.”

Brenkus tells Front Row how he his sport scientists approached the piece once it was reported that 11 of 12 balls were underinflated.

We’ve frozen footballs, heated them up, deflated them — we’ve even blown a few up. – John Brenkus

Take us through the process, if you would.
The actual request came yesterday, but our data set on tests we’ve done with football under various conditions has been going on for eight years. We’ve frozen footballs, heated them up, deflated them — we’ve even blown a few up. But we had to scramble to pull it all together to make the 6 p.m. (ET) SportsCenter [where it debuted].

We pulled from our extensive database and also did some specific tests regarding this incident.

What specific tests did you run yesterday?
We used our custom Tekscan pressure sensored gloves to measure how much force I could exert on a regulation ball and a slightly under-inflated one. We also measured how much I could compress each ball to see how my grip was affected for both receiving and throwing.

Is it different analyzing an inanimate object versus an athlete?
Not really. We test inanimate objects all the time. Whether it’s measuring the coefficient of restitution for a bat or how the stitching on a soccer ball affects its flight, we’ve looked at nearly every object you can think of in sports.