July 30, 1999
All NFL footballs are born alike. Starting this year, the league wants to ensure they stay that way.
To prevent any possible tampering with balls, especially by kickers and punters, the preparation procedures for game balls have been changed.
Previously, 36 footballs (24 for indoor games) were sent to the home club on the Friday before a Sunday home game. Quarterbacks were permitted to test the balls on Friday or Saturday by "throwing them around." They were not permitted to be used in a structured practice.
In the belief that it added yardage to their kicks, some kickers and punters were reported to have "doctored" the footballs that had been delivered to their club, according to comments filed by some quarterbacks and coaches with the NFL Competition Committee. Now, just in case the accusations are true, new procedures devised by the Competition Committee will prevent game balls from being altered.
Twelve of a game's 36 footballs will be shipped separately to the stadium and opened for the first time in the officials' locker room two hours prior to the start of the game. These balls, branded with a small "K" on one of the panels next to the laces (players don't kick the laced side of the ball), will be used exclusively for the kicking game.
"Quarterbacks have complained to us about the condition of some of the balls used in games," says NFL Senior Vice President of Football Operations George Young. "We want to make sure that the quarterbacks are comfortable with the balls. We also want all the kickers and punters to be playing on an even field."
NFL Senior Director of Officiating Jerry Seeman says that the officials will properly rub down the balls for the kicking game.
"The 12 kicking-only balls will be brushed down just as the other 24 balls will be by the officials prior to kickoff," says Seeman. "The officials will also check the inflation of all footballs to be used for that game. All the players can rest assured that the balls will be of the highest quality."
As part of the new procedures, any individual who alters the footballs in any way will be subject to discipline by the league, including a fine of up to $25,000.
"We're trying to keep things fair and even," says Young. "This is not a new phenomenon, but no team or position player should have an advantage with the footballs. That is what the Competition Committee is all about, leveling the playing field."
Wilson Sporting Goods, which manufacturers NFL footballs, makes more than 24,000 for each NFL season at its Ada, Ohio facility.