The NFL acknowledged for the first time today that the New England Patriots used under-inflated balls in the first half of Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts and that it is continuing to look the matter ahead of next week's Super Bowl.
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"While the evidence thus far supports the conclusion that footballs that were under-inflated were used by the Patriots in the first half, the footballs were properly inflated for the second half and confirmed at the conclusion of the game to have remained properly inflated," the league said in a statement.
"The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action. We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence," the league said, adding that it has conducted nearly 40 interviews, including "Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties with relevant information and expertise."
The statement stops short of saying the Patriots deflated the balls.
In a statement this afternoon, Patriots owner Bob Kraft said, "Immediately after receiving the letter [from the NFL on Monday], I instructed our staff to be completely cooperative and transparent with the league’s investigators. During the three days they were here, we provided access to every full- and part-time employee the league’s representatives requested to speak with and produced every communication device that they requested to search. It is an ongoing process that the league and our team are taking very seriously. ... Competitive balance and the integrity of the game are the foundation of what makes our league so special and I have the utmost respect for those principles. Our organization will continue to cooperate throughout the league’s investigation. Meanwhile, our players, coaches and staff will continue to focus on our preparations for Super Bowl XLIX and the many challenges we face as we prepare for the Seattle Seahawks.”
Earlier this week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have denied knowing that the footballs used at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, were deflated.
The NFL’s guidelines dictate that a ball must be inflated to about 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch and weigh between 14 and 15 ounces.
The league also said, "The playing rules are intended to protect the fairness and integrity of our games. We take seriously claims that those rules have been violated and will fully investigate this matter without compromise or delay. The investigation is ongoing, will be thorough and objective, and is being pursued expeditiously. In the coming days, we expect to conduct numerous additional interviews, examine video and other forensic evidence, as well as relevant physical evidence."
On Tuesday, ESPN reported 11 of the Patriots' 12 allotted game footballs were underinflated by two pounds per square inch of air, citing anonymous league sources.
"Upon being advised of the investigation, the Patriots promptly pledged their full cooperation and have made their personnel and other information available to us upon request," the NFL statement today read. "Our investigation will seek information from any and all relevant sources and we expect full cooperation from other clubs as well. As we develop more information and are in a position to reach conclusions, we will share them publicly."
The minimum disciplinary action for anyone, including the head coach or other club personnel, who is responsible for a non-approved football is a fine of $25,000, according to the NFL's game operations manual.
The investigation comes ahead of next week's Super Bowl, where New England will play the Seattle Seahawks.