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4 ways commissioning (Cx) could have prevented the NFL Deflategate scandal

Properly inspecting footballs is not unlike commissioning protocol, writes CannonDesign's Brett Farbstein.

September 16, 2015 |
Cannon Design Blog

On September 3, a federal court judge in New York ruled against the NFL, vacating the punishment imposed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his involvement in the Deflategate saga. Even if you’re not an NFL fan and don’t watch or listen to sports news, you’ve likely heard about Deflategate—the accusation of the Patriots deflating footballs to gain a competitive advantage during the January 2015 AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts. Whether you believe that Brady and the Patriots’ staff intentionally let air out of their footballs or you think it was simply weather conditions and the ideal gas law at work, the dispute over the equipment infraction could have been eliminated if the NFL had adopted a structured verification process similar to CannonDesign’s commissioning (Cx) protocols.

The term commissioning derives from the shipbuilding industry, referring to a thorough quality assurance process of the ship’s materials, systems and staff prior to being put into service. Commissioning has since been adopted for buildings, with this systematic review and verification process beginning during design and continuing through construction, occupancy and operations to ensure that a new facility operates as the owner intended. The process, as defined by ASHRAE Guideline 0, is widely accepted and referenced in the AEC industry for Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Life Safety equipment and systems, as well as Building Enclosure assemblies.

If the NFL had taken the following steps, which are all part of our standard Cx process, Deflategate could have been avoided and fans could have remained focused on the true merits of the Patriots’ and Colts’ performances.

1. Clearly Defining the Requirements – The NFL’s rulebook does have a section on ball dimensions which includes size, shape, material and the pressure requirements of 12.5 and 13.5 psi. Unfortunately, the rules do not mention factors such as ambient temperature or specific types of gauges to be used for testing inflation. During the Cx process, the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) and Basis of Design (BOD) are reviewed for completeness and clarity. The OPR form the basis from which all building design, construction, acceptance and operational decisions are made. The BOD is a document written by the design team to put into a narrative format how they intend to meet the OPR and their methodology for design decisions.

2. Using Calibrated Testing Equipment – The NFL’s rulebook does not mention the air pressure testing gauges at all, only that the home team shall supply a pump. A building project’s specifications most often require that subcontractors, such as the HVAC balancer and plumber, use calibrated testing gauges. When reviewing test reports, the Cx provider checks to see that equipment certificates have been included and are current. The Cx provider may also spot-check measurements with their own calibrated equipment to verify test results.

3. Documenting Test Results – Per the NFL’s rulebook, the referee is the sole judge to determine if a ball is compliant with rulebook specifications, but there is no specified procedure or documentation protocols for recording pressure results. During the Deflategate investigation, it became known that there was no record of how much pressure each ball had when delivered to the Patriots’ ball attendant before the game. If there had been, the referee may have needed to let air out or add some to meet the pressure requirements. During commissioning, customized test scripts are developed for each piece of equipment or system. The equipment is then operated under the direction of the Cx provider to prove its functionality and the results are documented. If there are deficiencies, they’re documented on an issues log, requiring correction by the contractor. This documentation is included in the final Cx report delivered to the project owner or facility manager at turnover and establishes performance baseline.

4. Retesting – The NFL’s rulebook had no protocol for retesting the football’s air pressure during a game. The AFC Championship game was actually the first time it was ever done. Part of the Cx process is to revisit the project around ten months after occupancy to review any issues prior to warranty expiration. Additionally, commissioning can be ongoing, continuous or monitoring-based with regular check-ins to ensure the performance baseline is being maintained. Re-commissioning involves retesting equipment and systems after a few years have passed.

With the 2015 season upon us and Deflategate serving as a difficult lesson learned, the NFL is planning to implement at least a couple of these verification steps going forward, which should eliminate any future equipment violation controversies. Luckily for the AEC industry, building owners and facility managers have learned over time that the commissioning process is invaluable in reducing occupancy issues and complaints.

Learn more about CannonDesign's commissioning services here.

Cannon Design Blog | CannonDesign
Cannon Design

CannonDesign’s blog is a place for the global design firm to share thoughts and news related to their current efforts to help transform businesses, educational models and health paradigms. The firm engages diverse perspectives and expertise to deliver proven, innovative solutions to our most important partners, our clients. Our global network of more than a thousand professionals enable us to create design solutions to the greatest challenges facing our clients and society.

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