Occam’s Razor and ‘Deflate-gate’

As #Snowmaggedon2015 creeps closer to our area, I’d like to pause a moment and write about “Deflate-gate.” There are quite a few angles to this storyline:

  • Are Bill Belichick and Tom Brady guilty of intentionally deflating footballs? If so, why would they so publicly go on the record and deny any wrongdoing and risk their reputations and employment?
  • Did a low-level employee somehow break into the officials’ locker room, where the footballs are stored after inspection, even with all the security cameras around?
  • Did the officials measure all the balls appropriately in the first place?
  • Why are NFL officials anonymously leaking details to reporters and displaying such lame passive-aggressive behavior? Is there a conspiracy to damage the Patriots’ reputation?

All of this makes me think of Occam’s Razor, the principle which says that the most common-sense answer is the most likely one. Our firm often thinks of this principle when we run into tricky situations in our VC jobs.

If you apply this POV, here is a scenario that may have happened:

  • Tom Brady likes his footballs filled on the low side but still legal
  • The equipment managers, who often receive tips from players, are trying to keep Tom happy. When they prep balls and Tom doesn’t like them, it creates more work. So, they learn over their 10+ years of working with him to fill the pressure a certain way: on the low side and just below the legal 12.5 psi mark
  • The balls pass inspection on the low side, either because the officials just do a visual inspection or because they use gauges that are slightly faulty
  • The footballs lose pressure as they’re played in cold weather (much like a tire loses pressure on a cold day)
  • Voilà

Another scenario, a low probability one, is that the officials broke protocol and the balls were not secured. An equipment manager disables nearby video cameras, breaks into the room and tampers with the balls. Or, during the 10 minutes during which the footballs are transported to the field, the manager deflates the ball and avoids the hundreds of people walking by or deflates the balls on the field without 70,000 people in the stadium seeing it.

That scenario is of course probable. But, is it likely? My 2 cents.

I find Occam’s Razor is incredibly useful when you try to discern a tough situation that questions someone’s behavior. It’s a very helpful tool to use, both for work and personal situations.

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