PHOENIX — Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officiating, finally spoke publicly on Thursday for the first time since the Patriots’ “Deflategate” incident broke two weeks ago.
And while he was hamstrung because of the NFL’s investigation led by attorney Ted Wells, Blandino stated that the officials did everything properly before the AFC Championship game, that the Colts had footballs tested at halftime along with the Patriots, that the NFL will discuss logging the results of each ball test in the future, and, to his knowledge, this was not a “sting” operation by the Colts and the NFL.
“The issue came up during the first half, as far as I know,” Blandino said at a news conference. “There was an issue that was brought up during the first half, a football came into question, and then the decision was made to test them at halftime. There’s an investigation going on, can’t really get into specifics.”
Blandino said that referee Walt Anderson did everything properly in regard to testing the footballs before the game on Jan. 18. Each team provided 24 footballs to Anderson 2 hours and 15 minutes before the game, and Anderson personally tested each one and marked them approved for use, Blandino said.
“From everything that we reviewed and all the information that we have, the balls were properly tested and marked prior to the game,” Blandino said. “We’ve done our part, in terms of looking at what Walt Anderson and the crew did and how things were handled, and they were handled properly from that perspective. Everything that comes out of that will be made public.”
However, Blandino confirmed the results of each ball test were not “logged,” and the NFL is essentially forced to take Anderson at his word. The NFL’s competition committee will discuss at the owners meetings in March whether the officials should log the results of each ball test, or if video should be used in the testing process.
“Everything’s on the table,” Blandino said. “With the amount of attention this has gotten, the committee is going to review it, and we’ll see.”
Blandino also confirmed that both teams had footballs tested at halftime, but he could not divulge anything else because of the ongoing investigation. He confirmed that the two-minute delay after halftime was because of the deflated ball issue.
“It was related to the testing that took place at halftime,” he said. “They wanted to make sure they had a right ball, a New England ball, and they wanted to make sure it was properly inflated. At the beginning of the second half, I believe that there was a kicking ball on the ground, and they wanted to make sure they got a Patriot football into the game.”
Some reports suggested the Colts became aware of a deflation problem in their Nov. 16 matchup against the Patriots, and warned the NFL ahead of time to catch the Patriots in the act in the AFC Championship.
Blandino said that simply isn’t true.
“I was not personally aware of any issue after that [Nov. 16] game,” Blandino said. “I don’t know where that came from.”
The “logging” issue is not the only one that will be discussed at the owners meetings. The entire ball custody process will be discussed and open for review.
Each team provides the officials with the game balls 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to the game, and the footballs remain in the officials’ locker room until 10 minutes prior to kickoff. The balls need to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, and they are inflated with an electric pump to meet the minimum requirements, Blandino said.
Blandino also said the competition committee will discuss whether 12.5 pounds per square inch is the appropriate inflation level. Wilson, the football manufacturer, recommended the 12.5 pound threshold.
“I feel like we will review that with Wilson and the competition committee — do we need to have a range, and what should that acceptable range should be?” Blandino said. “I think there are a lot of things that are on the table. We’ll do an expansive review of all the processes.”
Bill Vinovich, the referee for Sunday’s Super Bowl who also worked the Patriots-Ravens playoff game, said that during the course of a game on a cold night, it would be tough for an official to determine if a football was slightly underinflated.
“You really couldn’t tell the difference unless you actually sat there and tried to squeeze the thing,” Vinovich said. “If somebody just tossed me the ball, especially in 20-degree weather, you’re going to pretty much play with the ball. They’re going to be hard, so you’re not going to notice the difference.”
Blandino also discussed the protocol for game balls on Super Bowl Sunday. The NFL will use 108 footballs – 54 per each team, up from the usual 12 or 24 – because the NFL constantly rotates new footballs into the game, then later auctions them off for charity.
The Patriots and Seahawks are free to practice with the footballs this week, but the NFL takes possession of the footballs on Friday. The Chicago Bears’ equipment staff, chosen to work the Super Bowl, is in charge of delivering the footballs to the officials three hours prior to kickoff.
“There will be some added security, just because of the environment that we’re in for this game,” Blandino said, “but there’s no change in protocol for the Super Bowl.”
Blandino confirmed that Nate Solder’s touchdown in the AFC Championship should not have been allowed, and instead the Patriots should have been penalized for illegal substitution.
The confusion arose from the Patriots’ use of ineligible and eligible receivers. Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming reported as an eligible receiver on the play before Solder’s touchdown, but returned to an ineligible lineman on the next play. NFL rules state that Fleming can only switch from eligible to ineligible, or vice versa, if he sits out for one play or if there is a stoppage in the game.
But there was no stoppage, Fleming didn’t sit out a play, and the play should have resulted in a 5-yard penalty for the Patriots, not a touchdown.
“We’re going to be obviously looking for that, make sure we follow the proper mechanics to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Blandino said.