By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With Dean Blandino abruptly departing his job last month, the NFL said that it immediately received interest from several qualified candidates. On Wednesday, the league announced that it would go in-house with the hiring of Blandino’s replacement in Alberto Riveron.
Riveron — unlike Blandino — was actually an NFL referee, which will instantly help his credibility among current on-field officials. After nine seasons on the field, Riveron spent the last four seasons as senior director of officiating.
“Al has done a terrific job as a key member of our officiating staff for the past four seasons,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in the announcement.
The NFL also announced the addition of a VP of instant replay and administration, and a VP of officiating evaluation and development.
As the news relates to New England, Riveron was one of the NFL executives involved in the league’s mishandling of the situation that came to be known worldwide as “DeflateGate.” And he played a rather significant role.
According to the Wells report, the email sent by then-Colts GM Ryan Grigson to Dave Gardi and Mike Kensil was forwarded to Blandino and Riveron. The email originated from the Colts’ equipment manager, who claimed on Jan. 17, 2015 that “it is well known around the league that after the Patriots game balls are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ball boys for the Patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better.” The email requested the NFL to have someone “check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that [the Patriots] don‟t get an illegal advantage.”
Riveron then spoke to referee Walt Anderson, who was the referee for that week’s AFC Championship Game against the Colts.
“At some point on Sunday morning, Anderson also had a brief conversation with Alberto Riveron,” the Wells report stated. “Without explaining the concerns raised by the Colts in detail, Riveron mentioned that concerns had been raised about the game balls, and that Anderson should be sure to follow proper pre-game procedures. Riveron recalls that Anderson responded that he had things covered and may have mentioned that he had already discussed the issue with Blandino.”
In a footnote, the Wells report noted that Riveron granted Anderson permission to “preemptively mark” the 12 backup balls for both teams, “in case the officials decided to use a completely new set of footballs for the second half.”
After the Colts raised concerns about the PSI of the football intercepted by D’Qwell Jackson, Riveron was the one who went to the officials locker room and called for alternate referee Clete Blakeman to bring the footballs into the room at halftime to be tested.
From the Wells report:
“Riveron told us that it was his call to collect the game balls for testing at halftime and that he did not consult with anyone else.”
That part is rather significant, as the hasty measurements conducted in unscientific fashion came to drive the entire saga and turn it into a major scandal. Not accounting for temperature and moisture, and being completely oblivious to a high school-level understanding of science, Riveron called for the halftime measurement of the PSI of footballs — a practice which had never been done before in the NFL.
Again, the measurements were made — according to the almighty, incontrovertible Wells report — solely at Riveron’s request.
“Riveron believed that the combination of the pre-game concerns raised by the Colts and the information received about the intercepted ball made testing the game balls essential,” the Wells report stated. “At Riveron’s request, [James] Daniel retrieved a gauge that was near the air pump in the dressing area of the Locker Room, and they tested the intercepted ball three times before the balance of the game balls were brought back to the Officials Locker Room.”
And once all the footballs were in the officials locker room, it was Riveron who led the testing procedures. From the Wells report:
“Alberto Riveron took primary responsibility for organizing a process for testing the game balls in the dressing area of the Officials Locker Room at halftime. Riveron told Walt Anderson to tend to his halftime responsibilities and instructed alternate officials Clete Blakeman and Dyrol Prioleau to test the air pressure of the Patriots and Colts game balls using gauges provided by Anderson.”
As a refresher, scientists explained in careful detail why the testing procedures that evening in the officials locker room provided unreliable and insufficient data. The numbers then prompted dubious firm Exponent to work backwards in reaching conclusions to suit the NFL’s case.
The following year, the NFL announced new procedures which would require officials to measure the PSI of footballs at randomly selected games and submit that recorded data to the league office. Upon receiving this data, the NFL chose to keep the numbers private, inventing a new plan on the fly — one which referred to these instances only as “spot checks” instead of data collection. The reasoning, according to every scientist not paid by the NFL to comment on the matter, would be that the numbers recorded during the 2015 season would be consistent with the numbers recorded on the Patriots’ footballs in January 2015.
And, in addition to the clumsy measurement process, the recording of the data was apparently even sloppier. Senior VP of football operations Dave Gardi wrote a letter to Robert Kraft stating that one of the game balls was measured at 10.1 PSI. This was false information.
According to the Wells report, the false information was shared by NFL officials who were involved first-hand with the measurements. From the report:
“We believe that there was an inadvertent error in communication of the results to Gardi. The NFL personnel providing the air pressure information to Gardi at the time did not have copies of the documents on which the measurements had been recorded by Richard Farley and were relying on memory alone.”
The Wells report did not specify which NFL employee was responsible for providing the false information to Gardi, but it should be stated that Riveron “took primary responsibility for organizing” the testing.
Wells later told reporters that Riveron was among the group of NFL officials who initially did not take the Colts’ accusation seriously prior to the game — an issue which led to the rushed testing at halftime, for which the involved parties were not properly prepared. (Wells also proved Blandino to have lied about the NFL’s knowledge of potential ball deflation.)
In a normal company, such blatant mishandling of a high-profile incident would typically lead to discipline and public exposure. In the NFL, it led to a major promotion to run a critical department in the operation of the league. Goodell and the NFL covered for Riveron’s mistakes tenfold, carefully protecting any and all NFL employees from being publicly exposed for even one minor misstep, while lobbing severe accusations at others over the course of several years.