IRVING, Texas - Fearing perception indeed can become reality, the NFL will discuss during next week's Annual Meetings in Phoenix, Ariz., altering procedures for preparing and using the footballs used solely for kicking in games.
They are known as "K-balls" because of the Magic Marker "K" scrawled onto the balls to designate them to be used only in the kicking game.
But if these new procedures are passed during the meetings scheduled to run Monday through Wednesday when the Dallas Cowboys also must petition the owners for increased-debt approval while building their new $1 billion stadium, don't expect the NFL to call them "Romo Rules."
Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, co-chair of the NFL's competition committee, said discussions about the K-balls had taken place well before Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo brought national attention to the subject by dropping what appeared to be a shiny new football on the snap for a potential playoff-winning field goal in a wild-card loss at Seattle.
"I don't want to say (Romo's bobble) didn't further the discussion," McKay said, "but I would say there was discussion of it earlier."
The competition committee will recommend the pre-game preparation period for rubbing down the new footballs coming right out of the box from the manufacturer be extended from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. The footballs are prepared by the game-day ball boys, and each team has one representative present during that time. This should allow the preparers to further diminish the slick film on the newly-packaged footballs.
McKay also said the K-balls would be sequentially numbered, giving the officials the opportunity to use the designated kicking footballs in order. That would prevent any notion of a previously unused football being slipped into the game at a critical point.
"Just to make sure that there is no perception - it is not reality in our mind - we're doing everything we can to make sure that people feel comfortable that the balls that are being played with in the games are appropriate," McKay said during the national conference call.
The K-ball procedure was introduced into the NFL in 1999 to create equity in games. Prior to that time, teams were known to use different tactics to not only remove the slickness from the footballs, but to also make them more pliable so kickers could get more height and distance on their kicks. One such tactic had been to place the footballs in a dryer with wet towels and those post-wash fabric softener sheets.
But for the past eight seasons, 12 balls marked with a "K" are sent from Wilson Sporting Goods, the NFL football manufacturer, directly to the officials the night before a game and then are handed over to the ball boys two hours prior to kick off for the 20-minute preparation period. More than doubling this period if the proposal is approved should allow better preparation of the K-balls, which in turn should decrease the slickness.
This proposal will be just one of many the competition committee will discuss with the owners, who will likely start voting on issues Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday before adjourning. First-year NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also is expected to discuss with club representatives his ideas for a league-wide personal conduct policy. Goodell is searching for an appropriate deterrent to the recent rash of off-field problems NFL players and coaches have been experiencing.
The competition committee, after meeting during the NFL combine in Indianapolis and then last week in Naples, Fla., will make several other proposals of note to the owners. Maybe the most prominent will be moving the kickoff for the start of overtime from the 30- to the 35-yard line. McKay said recent statistics show the teams winning the coin toss are starting to win the majority of the games - not necessarily because of owning the first possession but from the field advantage gained following the kickoff.
McKay said from 1974-93, teams winning the coin toss were winning just 46.8 percent of the games. So it was about even.
But since moving the kickoff back from the 35 to the 30 and the introduction of the K-balls in 1999, teams winning the toss began winning games 62 to 63 percent of the time, which according to McKay is "a pretty dramatic increase."
He would go on to point out, though, that 45.5 percent of the teams winning the toss are now winning games on their first possession, which is "10 to 12 percent higher" than when kickoffs were from the 35-yard line.
Other proposals to be discussed are:
- Penalizing players five yards for spiking the ball in the field of play, though doing so in the end zone or out of bounds still will be tolerated.
- Placing a coach-to-player communication device, similar to that used by the quarterbacks, in the helmet of one designated defensive player, but only one, and if that player is lost due to injury in a game, the team must revert back to signaling in the calls.
- With two years remaining on the current instant replay system, making instant replay a permanent rule in the league and also upgrading all instant-replay equipment to high definition.
- Allow assistant coaches involved in playoffs being interviewed for head coaching positions to receive a second interview during the dead week between the conference championship game and the Super Bowl if they still are involved.
- Altering how teams report injuries during the week to the league for media use, and instead of designating players out, doubtful, questionable or probable Wednesday through Friday, have them simply report the injured players' practice status on Wednesday and Thursday, and then give a game-day status designation on Friday. Coaches would have to divulge if players fully participated in practice, were limited or failed to practice, which will allow them three full days of practice before projecting their game-day status.
Also, the league will consider two rule changes being proposed by teams. Tampa Bay is proposing to make all penalties except offensive holding subjected to instant replay review. San Francisco is proposing altering the penalty for pass interference from an automatic spot foul to a 15-yard penalty, with blatant interference a spot foul.
Also, Chicago is proposing an expansion of the game-day active roster from 45 to 47.
While these meetings will draw interest, of utmost interest to the Dallas Cowboys will be the NFL Spring Meetings May 22-23 in Nashville, Tenn., where the owners will vote to award the 2011 Super Bowl. The North Texas region will be submitting its proposal next month for the game, along with Indianapolis and Arizona, the upcoming site for Super Bowl XLII.