Since news broke on Sunday night that the New England Patriots were under investigation for reportedly deflating footballs prior to the AFC Championship game, people all over the football world have weighed in. And while many have expressed shock and outrage over “Deflategate,” those within the game say the practice is widespread at all levels of the game.
From the NFL down to the high school level, deflating or otherwise altering footballs is a common practice, according to players and coaches from around the area.
Dan Curran, who coached former Newburyport High quarterback Joe Clancy at Merrimack College, said he knows quarterbacks everywhere like their balls a certain way, but he doesn’t believe it ever has a significant impact on the game itself.
“We’ve never run into it here where we had an issue and we called another team on it,” said Curran, the head coach for Merrimack. “I’m sure it goes on. I know quarterbacks particularly want the ball a certain way and that comes down to hand size and the weather, what you’re doing offensively. So I can’t sit here and say there’s one or two individuals that I could tell you a story about, but I do know it goes on.”
Clancy, for his part, said every quarterback has a different preference, but it all comes down to how the ball feels. A lot of times players will push the envelope, hoping to have the ball as light (or heavy) as possible without anyone noticing.
“You know I’d be lying as a quarterback if I were saying having a little air out of the ball didn’t help,” Clancy said. “The tough part, as a Pats fan, is you hate to see it, you hate to see them get caught for it because you know other players do it. Not to incriminate Merrimack, but I would always inflate it to the right weight, but also have the lowest legal weight possible.”
Even at the high school level, teams will regularly alter balls to meet their team’s preferences. For instance, Triton head coach Pat Sheehan said they’ll typically introduce new balls every couple of weeks, and usually they will deflate the balls slightly to make them easier to work with.
“It definitely happens. Every new ball comes in with a pretty uniform amount of air pressure,” Sheehan said, adding that his team doesn’t measure air pressure in the ball. “We have the same parameters as the NFL does in high school, but every single time we take a ball out of the bag, I’ll stick a needle in it and deflate it a little bit. We’ve had balls taken out of the game where the ref says it’s too soft, and we’ll throw them another one.”
Sheehan said the officials in the Cape Ann League are good about checking the balls, and while nobody ever pulls out a scale to measure the balls prior to kickoff, they have a pretty good idea of what a properly inflated ball should feel like. He added there were probably three or four occasions where an official threw a ball out of the game for being too deflated, and numerous times where the same happened to an opposing team.
“It’s really not a big deal at all; it happens quite often,” Sheehan said.
Glen Gearin, athletic director and head football coach at Amesbury High School, concurred with Sheehan’s assessment.
“Oh yeah, guys will do that, absolutely, especially if you have a quarterback with small hands,” Gearin said, adding that a deflated ball is much easier to hold in cold or rainy conditions. “You’ll see a lot of that. Sometimes you’ll see officials, especially in the kicking game, they’ll question the ball, throw it out and ask for a new one, and then you’ll see the ball come back into the game later.”
As far as whether the Patriots did anything wrong, Sheehan said the balls being deflated in and of itself isn’t that bad, but if it’s true that the balls were altered after the initial check, that would be another story entirely.
“I think it’s probably standard operating procedure. Every team handles their balls differently, sometimes within the rules, sometimes outside the parameters,” Sheehan said. “I think what’s going to hurt the Patriots is that the balls were altered after the initial check. I think that’s pretty serious.”
Clancy said he believes it’s important that teams follow the rules, and if it’s proven that the Patriots altered the ball after the initial check, there should be some kind of consequence, but not to the degree that some are suggesting.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal, but I think you have to follow the rules,” Clancy said. “I think they [the Patriots] deserve a fine. Have them pay it. But draft picks? That’s tough. Maybe a little lower, seventh- or sixth-round picks. But people calling for Bill Belichick’s job right now? That’s too much. With some of the stuff going on around the league, this isn’t big. Two pounds in a football is very, very minor. But obviously there’s rules and you have to uphold them, but calling for jobs and forfeiting playoffs spots? That’s a little much.”
As for Curran, he made his opinion very clear.
“If it wasn’t Bill Belichick and the Pats [it wouldn’t be happening],” Curran said. “It’s a lot of backlash. It’s similar to what the Yankees would be going through. People just don’t want to see them be successful. And it is what it is. Belichick has kind of done that to himself, but I think it’s a joke. I really do.”
Staff writer Pat Bradley contributed to this article.