Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
When the Trojans took on the Oregon Ducks last Saturday, not only did a 62-51 loss leave the team deflated, but a student manager enacted the same result upon several game balls before and during the first half. The result was the removal of the manager on Wednesday, as told in the school’s release posted to the official athletics website:
"Game officials discovered and re-inflated three of the balls before the game and two others at halftime. All balls were regulation in the second half. When informed of this allegation by the Pac-12, USC investigated it immediately. The student manager confirmed that he had, without the knowledge of, or instruction from, any USC student-athlete, coach, staff member or administrator, deflated those game balls after they had been tested and approved by officials prior to the game. As a result, the Pac-12 reprimanded USC and imposed a fine."
Initially, knowing the public reputation of Lane Kiffin, this screams of what could perhaps be another Kiffinism. Whether or not he had a hand in the matter is unknown, but his perception doesn’t exactly help the Trojans’ or Kiffin’s public image.
Interestingly enough, managers work the closest with quarterbacks, suggesting that if anyone had a direct hand in the deflating news, it could be Matt Barkley.
Deflated balls are heavier, making them harder to throw deep balls, but they can be overwhelmingly easier to grip, catch and throw, explaining why quarterbacks are picky with the inflation or in this case, deflation, of the balls.
But in addition to playing the blame game, it raises questions about officiating. The statement from the athletic department makes it clear that balls were both during the pregame check and at halftime, yet the manager was not reprimanded until halftime.
If there was concern about deflated by balls before the game, why weren’t they being inspected during the game?
The officials touch the ball on every play, setting it down at the line of scrimmage and taking the ball away from the offense after each gain of positive or negative yardage.
The fact that it took until the second half to maintain regulation with the balls suggests that either the Trojans’ manager was gradually deflating as the first half progressed, or the officials were simply missing it for 30 minutes of play.
If deflated balls present an offense with a clear performance advantage, and it was noticed before the game giving reason to be skeptical, there’s no excuse for not being ultra cautious or aware of them during play.