John T. Reed’s Football Think Tank

The five-panel football
A better football
Rawlings makes a variety of five-panel footballs. As far as I can tell, the five-panel design is clearly superior to the four-panel design which has been in use for a century and high school and youth coaches should switch to the five-panel design immediately. At present, the five-panel design has not been approved for the college or pro levels.

Rawlings is not giving me any consideration to talk about them. If they are aware of this Web page, it is not because I told them.

Used in 2004-2005
Our freshman high school team used the five-panel balls in 2004 and 2005. Not only did our quarterbacks prefer them and use them, our centers and receivers preferred them as well. I did not ask our running backs, but it is logical that they, too, preferred the extra seam for catching pitches, passes, and avoiding fumbles.

Extra panel and seam
Other football have four panels and four seams. The various Rawlings Series Five models have five panels and five seams.

Easier to grip
The extra seam makes it easier to grip the ball. Logic suggests this should be more valuable to players with smaller hands but all players, including those with large hands, can probably throw better with the five-panel ball. There is no reason to believe any player would be better off playing with the four-panel ball.

When you grip a four-panel football, your fingers typically get one seam. With a five-panel football, your fingers typically touch two seams.

High school and youth
The ball is approved for all high-school play including varsity. It has the required NFHSA logo on it.

Faster, straighter, farther
Balls travel faster, farther, and straighter if turbulence is created around them. This is why golf balls have dimples. It is why baseball polyballs have holes all over their surfaces. Smooth plastic balls break erratically.

Four-seam fastball
Baseball players other than pitchers are trained to throw what pitchers call a four-seam fastball—because it is faster and more acccurate than any other type of grip. A four-seam fastball is gripped such that when it leaves the player’s hand, the four long seams rotate across the face once during each rotation. The alternative is a two-seam fast ball in which the two short seams rotate across the face of the ball once during each rotation. The reason the four-seam fast ball goes faster and straighter is that the four seams cutting into the on-coming air creat more turbulence than the two seams doing the same. The reason the dimpled golf ball goes straighter and faster is the dimples create more turbulence.

I am not aware of any scientific testing of the flight characteristics of the five-seam football, but its extra seam ought to create more turbulence when passed as well as when kicked. If that is the case, it should fly faster (and therefore farther) and straighter.

Must use on prior downs in series to use for field goal or punt
In order to use the five-panel ball as your scrimmage-kick ball, it must have been used throughout the series (first three downs). NFHSA Rule 1-3-2 You can also use it for any free kick (kickoff or free kick after a safety or fair-caught kick) regardless of whether you used it on prior downs immediately before the free kick or extra point kick.

Use rubber balls for free kicks
I recommend rubber footballs for all free kicks where the ball is expected to be returned. They bounce higher and more erratically and rubber is typically a surface that the returners are not used to. Rubber footballs that have the NFHSA logo are approved for high school football. NFHSA Rule 1-3-1a You must show the referee all footballs you plan to use during the game before the game.

Five-panel for touchbacks
Use a five-panel ball for free kicks when you expect to kick a touchback for extra distance.

Resistance to the five-panel football seems to be based solely on fear of change and fear of being different.

To contribute an idea or comment to this Football Think Tank web site, either email to or fax to 925-820-1259 or snail mail at 342 Bryan Drive, Alamo, CA 94507.

Best wishes,

John T. Reed

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John T. Reed, a.k.a. John Reed, John T Reed, Jack Reed, 342 Bryan Drive, Alamo, CA 94507, Voice: 925-820-7262, Fax: 925-820-1259, Email: