POSTED 8:44 a.m. EST; LAST UPDATED 9:50 a.m. EST, January 8, 2007
DID SEAHAWKS BALL BOYS HOLD BACK SLICK "K" BALL?
There's talk in league circles of suspicion that the Seahawks' ball boys/men/persons selected the slickest of the new "K" balls and held it back for a key moment in the game against the Cowboys.
The rumor/innuendo/scuttlebutt is that the slipperiest of the "K" balls was first put into play when the Cowboys lined up for a potential game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Holder Tony Romo caught the snap but lost control of it as he was trying to get it in place for the kick.
We're not suggesting or reporting that this occurred, or that by doing so the ball boys/men/persons did anything improper.
We're only sharing in this space the talk in league and media circles.
But there's definitely room in the rules for such tactics.
Rule 2, Section 2 of the 2006 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League addresses the issue of ball supply.
The home team is required to have 24 balls available for the game.
Of those, 12 new balls, sealed in a special box and shipped by the manufacturer, are to be opened in the officials' locker room two hours before the start of the game, and are specially marked by the referee for use in the kicking game.
Typically, the referee writes a "K" on the ball near one of the tips, and draws a tight circle around it.
In a note to Section 2, the rules state that it is the responsibility of the home team to furnish playable balls at all times by attendants from either side of the playing field.
Though we know nothing about the dynamics of the hiring or employment of the ball attendants, our guess is that they are local residents who undoubtedly have a bias in favor of the home team.
And since the rules contain no further details regarding the handling of the "K" balls, our guess is that one of the attendants has a bag with all 12 of the balls.
Along with full discretion as to which ball will be produced at any given time.
Since the attendant with the bag of the "K" balls isn't being called upon to regularly change out a ball for use in the game, that attendant has time to "inspect" the supply of "K" balls, in the hopes of possibly finding one or more of them that is better or worse than the others, based on advice given from time to time to the attendant by the kicker, punter, holder, snapper, and/or special teams coordinator.
The "good" ball would then be produced for kicks to be made by the home team.
Any "bad" ball could be squirreled away for when the visitors are preparing to attempt a crucial kick.
Regardless of whether that's what happened in this case, we're troubled by the looseness in the rules in this regard.
Why is the home team even allowed to get its mitts on the "K" balls, which are hermetically (thanks, Tiki) sealed until two hours before kickoff?
Why isn't a league employee responsible for the whereabouts and selection of these balls during the game?
At a bare minimum, there should be a predetermined rotation as to when each ball will be used, with the referee marking each "K" ball with a number.
"K1" would be used on the opening kick.
"K2" would be used on the next kick or punt.
This would ensure that every "K" ball gets into the game on a random basis, and it would remove from the equation the ability of the ball attendant to pick which of the "K" balls would be used.
As we've said before, one of the challenges that the NFL faces in crafting its rules and procedures is to minimize the appearance of the potential for foul play.
In this case, nothing in the rules prevented the home team's ball attendant from holding back a particularly slick "K" ball until the final minute of the game, even though the botched field goal attempt was the 27th occasion during the contest in which one of the "K" balls was used.
So the Competition Committee should use Saturday night's events as a catalyst for enacting a rule that imposes tighter restrictions on the discretion that, based on the current rules, the ball attendants can exercise.