To send the scintillating Dolphins-Bills game to overtime on Christmas eve, Miami kicker Andrew Franks nailed a 55-yard field goal with six seconds remaining in regulation.
A few days after the game, while meeting with the media, Franks made this known:
Andrew Frank's kicked a QB ball rather than a K ball on his 55-yard kick in Buffalo. The K ball typically new and travels further.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) December 29, 2016
Ummm... is that legal?
MRW and I did some research, and, well... we weren’t able to uncover a concrete answer regarding whether kicking with the QB ball was legal or not.
Here’s how Matt put it: “Everything I've read says that Dolphins kicker should have used a K ball for the kick, but I can't find a spot where it's illegal to kick with a regular ball, per se.”
On K balls, the rule book portion of NFL.com reads as follows”
“These balls are to be specially marked with the letter "k" and used exclusively for the kicking game.”
Technically, that says the K balls are only to be used for the kicking game, which doesn’t help us here. Nowhere could I find anything that says it’s an illegal action to kick with a QB instead of a K ball, but it’s not crazy to assume that would (or should?) be the case.
Furthermore, after checking around the Internet for a while, the final statement in Salguero’s tweet... “The K ball typically new and travels further” appears to be incorrect, which completely changes the insinuation that Franks was able to make the 55-yard kick despite using a ball that doesn’t travel as far.
This ESPN article from 2007 indicates K balls do not travel as far as the others.
“The NFL introduced the K Balls eight years ago after the competition committee decided teams were abusing their privileges and taking unusual measures to condition balls so they would fly higher and travel farther.”
“New footballs are hard, unforgiving, smallish (with a correspondingly small sweet spot) and coated with a film that makes them slippery. They don't travel as far as game-worn balls, and they can't be "guided" as accurately as roundish, softer balls. When you see a kicker squeeze a ball, it's because he wants to soften it and make it rounder.”
In 2011, the Chargers’ official website posted an article about the K ball. Included is this line:
“While the new K balls are more difficult to kick than the ones broken in at practice, most players have accepted the rules and learned to adapt.”
Unfortunately, at this moment, we don’t have a specific answer on whether or not Frank’s kick was illegal or not. However, it is pretty clear that he gained an advantage by kicking the game-tying field goal with the QB ball, not the K ball.
We’ll leave this “case” open and call it, creatively, #KBallGate.