Regarding Brady and Belichick, my thought is that they were “willfully ignorant.” That still leaves them culpable to some degree, of course, but it allows them to honestly say that “I did not know.” For some reason, the reporters did not push that point harder. The “process” of preparing the footballs was still quite vague, even at the end of the press conference.
Brady said he selected the footballs out of a grouping. Of course, he’s not testing PSI (no one would expect that), but if there were 20 footballs, he could easily select the 12.5, 12.0, 11.5, or 11.0 ones. He would “not know” in a sense; he just knew that he selected ones that felt right. After months, the ball boy would never need to be told; he would simply know that deflated ones made his boss happy. It would seem that strange number — 11 out of 12 — would confirm this. No one was explicitly told to deflate them, but by “defined chance,” Brady happened to select the lower PSI balls from the group.
Brady may have been honest during the press conference. After all, he played better in the second half with the inflated balls, so maybe he didn’t notice during the activity of the game. I would normally be suspicious, but if the referees did not notice, then the difference is pretty subtle. He may have planned his willful ignorance before the game, but really, no one pressed him about that.
I’m surprised the referees haven’t been grilled more. It’d probably be too risky to deflate them on the sidelines, so my guess is that the “football checker” was also negligent. But who could blame him? It’s such an unexpected thing to happen that he probably just checked them by hand.
That’s a lot of speculation, but willful ignorance is a way to “tell the truth” and “ignorantly” cross the line.