Commissioner suggests removing 1-pt play
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell floated a big trial balloon earlier this week when he said the NFL may consider abolishing the extra point, saying the kick is “almost automatic” and further adding that he wishes to “add excitement with every play.” Goodell proposes that a touchdown be worth seven points. The scoring team would have the option to try to run in an extra point and score a total of eight points. If the conversion fails, the scoring team would only be credited with six points.
The extra point was adopted as early as 1883 as a way of reducing ties. The goalposts over the years have been moved from the end line to the goal line and back again. The NFL, in an attempt make the game more exciting, adopted the two-point conversion in 1994, as a way of making an 11-point differential a two-score game. Goodell is correct that the extra point kick is “almost automatic.” Since 1985, the lowest conversion percentage was in the 1987 season, when kickers hit the extra point 95.5 percent of the time.
In my opinion, the NFL does not need to change the extra point rules for two reasons.
The kicking game has been a vital part of football since 1883. The point values have changed, the place of the extra point kick has changed, and the goal posts have changed position and width; however football teams have had to kick the extra point since Chester A. Arthur was president of the United States. The kicking game has been an part of football strategy since the inception of the game. Abolishing the extra-point kick will mean abolishing one of the first rules of the game and minimizing the kicking game.
Also, the game of football is very exciting as it is. Yes, the extra point is almost taken for granted, but the teams still have to convert the point and if they don’t it usually comes back to haunt them at some point in the game, like what happened to Washington in 2010 (video). The touchdown is the most exciting play in football, and results in euphoric fan reaction. The extra point does not diminish fan interest, excitement or emotions after a touchdown.
For any rule to change, the NFL Competition Committee has to recommend the change and 75 percent of the owners have to vote in favor. This extra-point rule change proposal by Roger Goodell smacks on needless tinkering. The NFL game is very entertaining, very exciting and very successful. There is no hue and cry from the fans to make the game more exciting. The NFL rules will have to keep evolving to make the game safe and viable for the rest of this century. The Competition Committee should concentrate on safety rules this coming spring — not scoring rules.
Player safety or an experiment?
Many of the rules proposals that land on the Competition Committee agenda affect some element of player safety. That said, the commissioner floated the possibility of changing sudden-death overtime, and that rule was subsequently changed, even though it adds plays to the game, increasing the potential for injury.
Goodell is serving the owners by this move. Obviously the extra-point kick has been under discussion already, and to test the fan reaction to it, he is the public face for the rule change.
If the point is for player safety, the NFL will likely phase out the conversion kick. If it is in the name of exciting game play, we have to look at the numbers.
Oddly, moving the goalposts to the end line created a precipitous drop in the accuracy of extra-point kicks, and it took 10 years to recover from it. Does it restore “excitement” to the play that the extra point is shanked, blocked, or botched once in every 10 kicks?/p>
Since 2000, there are 13 games where a failed extra-point kick either was the margin of defeat or lead to an overtime loss (h/t Todd Pence at the Professional Football Researchers Association discussion forum). If there is one game a year where that one point determines a game and countless others where it hangs in the balance of a close contest, then it becomes more integral to the game rather than a vestigial throwback to its rugby roots.
Player safety is also a concern, as the Patriots found out when tight end Rob Gronkowski was sidelined in parts of two seasons because of a broken arm sustained on an extra-point attempt. However, the league has not taken measures to reduce the number of plays since the dawn of the heightened concussion awareness era of football.
I’m all for keeping things the way they are. However, if change is inevitable, there is a simple and logical way to increase the difficulty slightly and keep the extra-point attempt in the game. Since the conversion attempt is an extension of the touchdown-scoring down, each side should keep the personnel they had on the field during that down, but be limited to two substitutions. This can be the kicker and either a holder, a snapper, or another lineman. Instead of employing a defensive line of their 11 largest players, keep most of the defense on the field from the previous down. This would make the play safer by lessening the load in the trenches. In addition, the accuracy of the play would likely reduce to the 90% mark of the mid-to-late 1970s. Add in a few provisions to allow equal substitution for injuries and ejections, and the play now resembles its origins more closely.
Images: Ben Hays/Denver Broncos; Football Zebras graphic