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In 1999, the NFL decided to stop kickers from doctoring up the balls to make them go farther and straighter. For some reason, someone in the NFL office thought that was a bad thing.
Thus, the K ball was invented. From a 2011 story on Chargers.com:
In a meeting about this season’s rule changes and points of emphasis, NFL officials explained that new footballs are reserved for kicking plays. Each team receives eight for outdoor games and six for indoor according to [referee Carl] Cheffers.
Marked with the letter “K” and the week number, the K balls are delivered to designated NFL officials at their hotel the night before, straight from the Wilson Factory. They arrive wrapped in tape marked with a “W,” preventing any pre-game tampering. This official guards it and does not allow the boxes to be opened any sooner than the arrival at the game.
The purpose of the regulations is to give all teams the same advantage when it comes to kicking plays during a game.
If all teams have the same advantage, then no team has any advantage.
Semantics aside, the K ball rule is one of those that works, so there is no need to tinker with it, even if it goes against everything today's NFL is all about.
Some years ago, the NFL moved the kickoffs back because there were too many touchbacks, but the NFL kickoff is one of the most dangerous plays in a game, with 22 players essentially running half the length of the field at full speed looking for a collision.
There has been talk for years—in the wake of catastrophic injuries on kickoffs—that the sport should eliminate the practice altogether. Why, then, does the league give kickers a ball with the expressed design to shorten kicks and keep the ball in play?
Kickoffs are very exciting, but there is an increased sentiment they aren't worth the risk. Giving kickers a ball they can easily kick through the end zone is a simple workaround to changing the kickoff rule.
With field position so important in the NFL, what's the harm in giving punters the ability to kick a ball farther? Putting offenses in tougher situations creates more strategy in the game. Besides, a punter kicking a ball farther could lead to more touchbacks, which could actually make field position better.
As for field goals, don't we want a situation where teams can score points more easily? If a 50-yard kick becomes more commonplace, trailing teams will have greater chances to get back into games, leading to a more exciting overall product.
The K ball isn't the worst rule in the NFL, but it just seems utterly unnecessary in today's game.