American Enterprise Institute finds Wells Report 'deeply flawed'

An independent report says the Wells Report was flawed. (Getty Images)

According to a study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, the Wells Report – the independent investigation conducted by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP litigation partner Ted Wells upon which the NFL based the punishment that was handed down to the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady for Deflategate – is "deeply flawed."

The American Enterprise Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank whose mission is "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism—limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability, and open debate," according its web site.

The study's abstract (a one-paragraph summary of its findings) is below:

In the current “Deflategate” controversy, the New England Patriots have been accused of illicitly deflating footballs before the start of their 2015 American Football Conference championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. The National Football League and the lawyers it hired have produced a report — commonly known as the “Wells report” — that has been used to justify penalties against the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. Although the Wells report finds that the Patriots footballs declined in pressure significantly more than the Colts balls in the first half of the game, our replication of the report’s analysis finds that it relies on an unorthodox statistical procedure at odds with the methodology the report describes. It also fails to investigate all relevant scenarios. In addition, it focuses only on the difference between the Colts and Patriots pressure drops. Such a difference, however, can be caused either by the pressure in the Patriots balls dropping below their expected value or by the pressure in the Colts balls rising above their expected value. The second of these two scenarios seems more likely based on the absolute pressure measurements. Logistically, the greater change in pressure in the Patriots footballs can be explained by the fact that sufficient time may have passed between halftime testing of the two teams’ balls for the Colts balls to warm significantly, effectively inflating them.

In an accompanying New York Times article, Kevin A. Hasset and Stan A. Veuger, who authored the study, wrote, "Our study, written with our colleague Joseph Sullivan, examines the evidence and methodology of the Wells report and concludes that it is deeply flawed."

The conclusion centers mostly on the scientific analysis conducted in the Wells Report. An excerpt explaining some of the flaws is below:

The Wells report’s main finding is that the Patriots balls declined in pressure more than the Colts balls did in the first half of their game, and that the decline is highly statistically significant. For the sake of argument, let’s grant this finding for now. Even still, it alone does not prove misconduct. There are, after all, two possibilities. The first is that the Patriots balls declined too much. The second — overlooked by the Wells report — is that the Colts balls declined too little.

The latter possibility appears to be more likely. The Wells report notes the expected pressure for the footballs at halftime in the Patriots-Colts game, factoring in the decline in pressure to be expected when a ball, inflated in a warm room, has been moved to a cold outdoor field. If the Patriots deflated their balls, their pressure levels at halftime should have fallen below the expected level, while the Colts balls at halftime should have hovered around that level.

But when we analyzed the data provided in the Wells report, we found that the Patriots balls declined by about the expected amount, while the Colts balls declined by less. In fact, the pressure of the Colts balls was statistically significantly higher than expected. Contrary to the report, the significant difference between the changes in pressure of the two teams’ balls was not because the pressure of the Patriots balls was too low, but because that of the Colts balls was too high.

How could this be? The report’s own findings suggest an explanation: At halftime, N.F.L. officials measured the pressure of “only a sample” of the Colts balls (four out of 12) before they ran out of time; the second half of the game was about to begin. This implies that the Colts balls sat in the warm room where they were to be measured — and thus increased in pressure — for almost the entirety of halftime before being measured.

All of the 11 available Patriots balls, by contrast, were measured at halftime, which suggests that they were measured earlier, when they were colder — and thus lower in pressure. Although this explanation contradicts the Wells report’s conclusions, it fits all the evidence.

The Times article ends with a recommendation from Hasset and Veuger that when the Roger Goodell hears Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension, he does so with the knowledge that the Wells Report is unreliable, though it stops short of suggesting any specific action Goodell should take with that knowledge.

When Hasset and Veuger presented similar findings about the Bountygate scandal at an NFL hearing in November 2012, the league later vacated all the players’ suspensions.

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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