For the past eight seasons, the NFL has allowed visiting teams to provide their own game-use footballs in order to allow their own staff to break the balls in using the manner preferred by their team, particularly the quarterback.
Prior to the league adopting that rule in 2006, it was the home team that supplied all the footballs that both sides would use, which forced the visiting quarterback to be at the behest of the preferences of the home team when it comes to how they prepared their game balls.
While New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady championed the motion to change the NFL’s policy regarding the game balls, it is true that it received widespread support throughout the league among just about every quarterback asked his opinion on the subject.
After all, there is no good reason why somebody would turn down the opportunity to prepare their equipment in the way they desire. Brady at the time drew a comparison between quarterbacks and their footballs to baseball players, and the idea that they would have to use a new glove for every game.
No doubt, it was a well-intentioned decision by the league to allow road teams the option of preparing game balls in the way that they desired, seemingly leveling the playing field by allowing each team access to the equipment they would be using. How fair is it that your opponents supply your equipment, after all?
Following the Wells Report in the advent of Deflategate, however, it seems that the NFL has realized its policy was not fool-proof, and they are reportedly considering taking a closer look at the protocols that relate to pre-game handling and supplying of footballs next week when the competition committee convenes.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Pro Football Talk that game day protocols regarding footballs will be discussed during the league meetings in San Francisco next week, which strongly suggests that there could be a rules change coming that is a direct response to the Patriots’ actions over the course of, at least, the past season.
After all, the league disciplined the Patriots with great severity when considering its past actions, suspending Brady for four games while fining the team $1 million—the biggest fine in the history of the league—while also stripping them of a 2016 first-round draft pick and a fourth-round selection in 2017.
It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, might emerge from these meetings, although it does seem apparent that there is a realization that the protocols as currently written and interpreted can be too easily exploited.
Perhaps a change could come in the form of the way the game balls are handled upon inspection. After the officials test the game balls for the final time prior to the game, then neither team is allowed access to them before kickoff, for example. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised should such a change at least be proposed, if not passed.