To the many unanswered questions in the NFL's Deflategate drama, we must add another: Does the NFL still have the data it collected from the random checks of the PSI levels of footballs during the 2015 season?
The NFL isn't saying, a position that could be related to ongoing legal proceedings, but that silence nevertheless leaves the league far short of the transparency one would hope for in matters it classifies as important to the integrity of the game. Perhaps commissioner Roger Goodell will clarify the situation Friday at his annual Super Bowl news conference, but until then, an important part of understanding what did or did not happen with the New England Patriots’ game-day footballs more than 12 months ago remains out of public view.
One of the big ironies of the league's investigation into the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady was that it had rarely focused on PSI levels before, which meant there was no baseline to which investigators could compare the reported readings on the Patriots' footballs from the 2014 AFC Championship Game. The NFL's longstanding process was to measure PSI but not record the readings. So as Deflategate mushroomed, there was no context and no way to know whether there had been other examples of underinflation and what had caused it.
The NFL was convinced via the Wells Report that the ball deflation was intentional and a violation of its rules. That's what made the league's enhanced protocol for PSI measurements, announced in August, so important.
In some ways, the policy would be a referendum on the merits of the NFL's investigation. It called for checks of ball inflation at halftime and postgame in games chosen randomly throughout the season. The readings were to be recorded, included in the Referee Report and submitted to the league office the next day.
Data collected at random points of the season isn't going to be all-inclusive, of course. But at the very least, it would have provided much more information than we currently have about how football inflation changes over the course of a game at different temperatures. We would have more information to help us determine when (or if) inflation changes are made by artificial means and when they're the changes we'd expect to see as a result of the Ideal Gas Law.
What happened to this data? The assumption has been that the league would release it in some form after the season. But during a Tuesday appearance on "The Rich Eisen Show," Goodell said the NFL used the random checks simply for their "deterrent effect" rather than as a "research study." He said there were no violations, presumably meaning that every random reading landed in the allowable range of 12.5 PSI to 13.5 PSI. But he said nothing about the data itself, leading to many to assume that the league had discarded it or had no more plans for it.
On Wednesday, I asked the NFL if it still had the data and, if so, if that data would be released to the public. Spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would not be "adding additional comment" to what Goodell said Tuesday.
Aiello did point out that the PSI spot checks were no different from the way the league enforces many other policies, including those regarding performance-enhancing drugs, injury verifications and the salary cap.
With Brady's appeal still active in the courts, of course, it wouldn't serve the NFL to release this data now. If it supports the league's conclusions, there is no incentive to put it in the hands of Brady's attorneys before it's necessary. And if it doesn't -- if there is a pattern, for instance, that shows inflation dropping with outside temperatures -- then it would obviously hurt the league's case.
I also understand why Goodell would want the data-collection process categorized as a deterrent rather than a study: The latter would imply the league was not fully informed on the topic before it suspended Brady for four games while docking the Patriots two draft choices and levying $1 million in fines. (NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent admitted under oath that he was unaware of the Ideal Gas Law prior to the investigation.)
But Goodell and the league office have spent much of past year telling the league and the public that manipulating football inflation levels was a grave matter of industry integrity. It spent nearly $3 million on the Wells Report, took one of the best players in its history to court and is still committed to prosecuting him 13 months later. If it's that important -- if it was worth that much time, money and effort -- then it's difficult to understand why they're not even willing to admit whether the 2015 PSI data exists. The implications of missing data are never good.