DeflateGate Deflated with Science

Posted on February 2, 2015 by Dr. Lynda

Who’s asking better questions? Luckily, there are many, in design, politics, science and, yes, even sports! Let’s find the real answer behind the famous deflated Superbowl footballs.

We’re going to dive into current events on EWC whenever people are forgetting to ask better questions, and today we have the perfect opportunity to show you what we mean by “asking better questions.”

Take, for instance, the recent uproar and accusations flying about the discovery that the footballs used in the NFL’s AFC championship game were not inflated to the proper pressure.

Deflated football

If you have no contact with the world of sports, then this hoo-ha may have escaped your awareness, but most who listen to any kind of general news will know that in the last two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, this was all anyone could talk about on ESPN and CNN.

But today we are going to debunk the conspiracy theories and prove that there is nothing newsworthy here. For as long as footballs have been inflated and tested inside, before game time, then used on a field that was 30 degrees (or more) colder outside, the balls have most certainly always been deflating. It’s physics.

And here’s where the better question came in: Finally some scientists who also happened to be football fans have weighed in on this controversy and helped everyone get their underwear out of a knot. Some early scientists, like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, actually made things worse when they commented early after doing the initial math (Tyson has corrected his mistake on his Facebook page); it turns out they left out one critical step in the calculations.

But before we complicate things even further, here’s the science of why this issue is now just empty rhetoric in the sports echo chambers. Take a look…

If you’d like to read more that independently confirmed the video and poke some fun at the matter, we found a great article by Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel that’s worth a quick read, found here.

Now back to asking a better question, a prize we’ll have to give the smart people at HeadSmart Labs who do this sort of testing for a living (their website is really interesting to scroll through), and also we’ll give Sal Khan of the Khan Academy kudos for actually detailing out the math for anyone who is hard to convince.

Instead of immediately going to accusations or defense by asking “who is responsible for the foul play?”,  HeadSmart Labs and Khan took the 10,000-foot look and said: “How could this have happened without foul play?”

Once I saw the math, folks, I wondered how we never noticed the deflation factor that should be happening in every football game ever played in cold weather! Whenever the outdoor temp is at or below freezing and the balls are inflated in a cozy 72-degree locker room indoors, there is always going to be a deflation factor as big or bigger than the one discovered in the AFC championship game.

No magic (and probably no mischief) here; just science!

In conclusion: Ask a better question, get a better answer. Now can we get back to enjoying the physical excellence and fun of the sport. Please!?

Stay open, curious and hopeful.

~ Dr. Chuck Verderber

Bonus Info (for any remaining doubters or physics geeks)

Need more proof? Below we have Sal Khan of the Khan Academy (the founder of an amazing website dedicated to making learning at all levels free to all around the globe) showing us the actual mathematics. The pundits can ramble on about this as long as it sells beer and Nike tennis shoes, but the mathematics won’t change. Khan also explains the physics in a way that Dr. Chuck and I could totally understand… if you just relax and don’t get bogged down in the fancy language you’ll see where Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson (and many others) went wrong at first pass. See what you think.

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