The NFL will keep Super Bowl balls under "added security" ahead of the game as the Deflategate investigation continues to dominate the headlines.
There will be 108 balls used in Arizona between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots on Sunday — 54 for each team and five times more than any other game. Both teams will practice with the designated set and break them in on Friday, but the NFL will take them into their custody afterwards before they are inspected by officials three hours before kick off.
During a press conference on Thursday, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino insisted that the heightened security wasn't a result of Deflategate but was normal protocol for the Super Bowl.
"There will be some added security just because of the environment we're in for this game,"said Blandino.
"The thing with the Super Bowl is during the first half, we rotate footballs in as much as possible, because then those balls are used for charity and NFL auction."
On Sunday, three hours before kickoff, the game balls will be delivered to the officials' locker room, where they will be inspected. Then the balls will be returned to an independently-chosen equipment manager, Tony Medlin of the Chicago Bears, who will bring them to the field and give them to ball attendants.
Asked whether officials will test balls mid-game, as they did on Jan. 18 after receiving a complaint, Blandino said there were no such plans. "If a situation comes up, we'll adjust, but we're just going to go through the normal protocol," he said.
Blandino also hinted at the possibility of a league-wide review into pre-game football preparations during the off season.
"They're not logged and that's certainly something that could be a thought," he added. "They're tested, they make sure that they're in that acceptable range and then they basically mark the football to say this is an acceptable football in that proper specification."