The Raiders sought clarification on an unusual tactic for kickoffs. After initially granting approval, the league has reversed course on the rule interpretation it issued.
Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson found a way to get a little extra elevation by having a teammate hold the ball while it was on the tee. Typically a holder is used in windy conditions, but in this case the holder is propping the ball up on the edge of the tee, rather than inside the placement cavity in the tee.
The Raiders ran this by senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson, and received his blessing, but now the league have reconsidered that interpretation, according to league sources familiar with the reversal.
The rule is that the kicker may place the ball on the tee in any manner desired. The ball can be laying on the ground and partially propped by the tee. It can even be placed horizontally on the tee. There are only three stipulations: once the ball is teed, the ball cannot be moved unless it falls off; the ball cannot be in advance of the kickoff line; and the tee can only be placed in its natural upright position (no upside down or angled tees).
So when the request came in from the Raiders to be able to place the ball on the lip of the tee and have a holder keep it in place, all seemed to comport with the rules about the tees. But, one provision lead to rethink that interpretation. And it took a little bit of rules history to make that determination.
When the league created its first rulebook and no longer relied on the college rules in 1932, one of the rules permitted a kicker to elevate the ball by building a “natural tee made from the soil in the immediate vicinity of the point of kickoff.” This probably lead to some impressive dirt architecture, and so by 1939 the league limited the height to 3 inches. Artificial tees were allowed in 1948, and due to the proliferation of artificial turf fields, the natural tee was abolished in 1983. Finally, the height of the tee was standardized to a 1-inch elevation in 1994.
Even though the kicker may place a ball in any manner on top of or resting against a tee, by placing it in an upright position on the lip circumvents the 1-inch requirement. When the NFL approved this tee style, the upright position of the ball was intended to be placed in the cavity, and so the height of the surrounding structure was largely irrelevant. Since the holder is facilitating a placement that is not possible due to gravity, the officiating department reversed course. They informed all teams about this revised interpretation following the Raiders Thursday night game against the Rams.
After the initial approval, Anderson consulted with the Competition Committee and retired NFL executive Joel Bussert, who has often advised on historical elements of rules for the league.