PHOENIX — A review by the league has determined the officiating crew followed all procedures properly in inspecting the footballs provided by the New England Patriots prior to the AFC championship game, according to Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating.
“The balls were properly tested and marked prior to the game,” Blandino said Thursday.
The NFL previously announced the footballs used by the Patriots in the first half of that game were determined to be under-inflated and in violation of league specifications. The league has said its ongoing investigation has not yet determined whether the Patriots deliberately under-inflated the footballs.
The Patriots have denied wrongdoing. They potentially could face penalties by the NFL if they are found to have willfully violated league rules.
Blandino said his review was focused solely on whether referee Walt Anderson and his crew followed proper pregame inspection procedures.
“My major concern is: Did we follow the proper protocol?” Blandino said. “We’re basically out of the investigation. … The [procedures] were followed properly from that perspective.”
According to Blandino, Anderson personally checked the air pressure in the footballs. Under league specifications, footballs must be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Each team supplies the footballs that it uses on offense during a game. The footballs, after being inspected, are returned to a team-appointed ball attendant.
According to a report by Fox, the league’s investigation is focused on a ball attendant who took the 12 footballs supplied by the Patriots, plus the 12 backups they provided as the home team, into a separate room on the way to the field. According to a report by Pro Football Talk, the attendant spent 90 seconds in a restroom.
Blandino and Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, declined to provide details of the ongoing investigation being led by Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief counsel, and outside attorney Ted Wells.
Blandino said the footballs were re-tested at halftime based on something that occurred during the first half, without being more specific.
“An issue came up during the game and the decision was made to test at halftime,” Blandino said.
Blandino confirmed that the NFL’s competition committee will review the chain-of-custody issue by which the footballs, after being inspected by the officials, are returned to a team-appointed ball attendant. That is not an issue for the Super Bowl. Under existing rules for the Super Bowl, the footballs — 54 of them for each team — are put in possession of a third-party equipment manager on the Friday before the game.
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