The NFL said Friday it has interviewed dozens of people and collected physical evidence but has no conclusions yet on how the New England Patriots used underinflated balls in their last game, offering no timetable for resolving the cheating accusations with the Super Bowl nine days away.
The league said evidence shows the Patriots used underinflated footballs during the first half of the AFC championship game Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts.
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It issued a statement that the Patriots have pledged full cooperation and have given the league information it requested and made personnel available upon request. Quarterback Tom Brady said Thursday afternoon he had not been contacted at that point.
The NFL said it began its investigation Sunday night and expects cooperation from other clubs. It hired an investigatory company to help review electronic and video information.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said investigators were in Foxborough for three days this week after he received a letter from the league Monday informing him of the probe.
"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," he said. "I very much support the league’s desire to conduct a complete investigation."
The Patriots are preparing to meet the defending champion Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.
The league said its conclusions will be quickly shared when reached.
"Over the past several days, nearly 40 interviews have been conducted, including of Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties with relevant information and expertise," the statement said.
NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss are leading the probe.
Wells was the investigator in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal. His report last February detailed widespread harassment in the team’s locker room that extended beyond the two players at the center of the probe. It said guard John Jerry and center Mike Pouncey followed Richie Incognito’s lead in harassing offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.
The NFL requires game balls to be inflated to between 12 1/2 and 13 1/2 pounds per square inch.
It wants to find out why footballs were underinflated during the first half and whether "deliberate action" caused it.
"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.
The balls were properly inflated for the second half and remained properly inflated after the game, the statement said.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson declined to comment.
"Everything, I’m sure is going to come out in the investigation," he said when asked if the Colts alerted the NFL to the underinflated balls. "It’s in the league’s hands."
A former NFL ball boy said it’s easy to remove air from a ball discreetly with a small pin that fits in the palm of a hand.
"This isn’t a big deal. Everyone does it because each quarterback likes a different grip," Nader Kawash, a Philadelphia Eagles ball boy from 1996-2000, told The AP. "I’m not saying a ball boy or equipment guy did anything on purpose to cheat. Sometimes the balls are overinflated so it’s easy to take some air out on the sideline without the referees noticing. You can use a helmet pin. Players can stand around in a circle. Anybody can do it."
Brady and coach Bill Belichick said Thursday they had no explanations for how the footballs were underinflated.
"I didn’t alter the ball in any way," said Brady, who said he likes footballs pumped to exactly 12 1/2 pounds per square inch, the lower limit. "I have no knowledge of anything, any wrongdoing."
Belichick said that before this week, he didn’t give air pressure in footballs much thought.
Softer balls are generally considered easier to throw and catch, and quarterbacks, specialists and equipment managers are known to have very individualized preferences in how footballs are readied for games.
Under league rules, each team provides balls for use on offense. Referees approve the balls more than 2 hours before game time, then keep the balls until they’re turned over to ball handlers provided by home teams just before kickoff.
"The playing rules are intended to protect the fairness and integrity of our games," the NFL said. "We take seriously claims that those rules have been violated and will fully investigate this matter without compromise or delay."
Patriots players said they believed Brady and wouldn’t let the investigation disrupt their preparations for the Super Bowl.
"Tom is a big boy," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "He knows how to handle all situations, so he’ll handle this with class, like he always does."
Safety Devin McCourty said the team trusts Brady.
"We’ve learned this year that it can be a lot going on outside of this building, but if everything’s right inside of this building we give ourselves a chance to win," McCourty said.