The NFL has opened an investigation into whether the New England Patriots deflated game balls before their thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship.
The news, first reported by Bob Kravitz of WTHR.com in Indianapolis, is likely to be a hot topic heading into the media storm that surrounds the league in the two-week run-up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Arizona, when the Patriots will take on NFC Champions Seattle Seahawks.
At a press conference Monday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick would only say of the controversy that he first heard of the accusations earlier in the day and that his team would cooperate with the NFL.
According to NFL.com, the league's rulebook states game balls must be inflated with between 12.5-13.5 pounds of air. Each team must provide 12 primary balls for testing prior to the game.
The league's game operations manual notes: "If any individual alters the footballs, or if a non-approved ball is used in the game, the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000."
Footballs that are below regulation weight are presumed to be easier to throw and catch.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady dismissed the "ridiculous" reports during his Monday morning appearance on WEEI-FM.
"I think I've heard it all at this point," Brady laughed. "That's the last of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this."
CBSSports.com's Will Brinson reports the most recent known incident of this kind happened at the University of Southern California, under Lane Kiffin, which was fined for deflating footballs.
"People like to pile on the Pats for their off-field, pre-game shenanigans and this won't be any different should the NFL find any inconsistencies with the way they handled their footballs against the Colts," Brinson writes.
The Patriots are no stranger to controversy. In 2007, the team was punished for videotaping sideline signals used by the New York Jets during a 2007 game, in a controversy that became known as "Spygate." Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was docked $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft pick.
In their second round playoff game last week, Baltimore Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh accused the Patriots of using an illegal formation during the game. The NFL later determined that was not the case.