Change extra points?

Reader Eddy Elfenbein makes a great point about extra points. I also like the idea of narrowing the field goal posts, something Bill Cowher advocated last Sunday. It would not only make extra points less certain, it would make fourth down conversion attempts more common and make overtime less susceptible to the 'lose the coin toss, never touch the ball' phenomenon.

Ideas like these really aren't that revolutionary. They would just be returning the game to its 'natural' balance. Kickers have become so accurate in recent decades that it has warped the game from its original intent. But NFL football has certainly evolved in many ways, and its unparalleled success makes tinkering with it a tough sell.

Extra points have become so automatic, I don't even pay attention. They're just going to be surrounded by commercials featuring that stiff Sprint CEO and the Bud Light drinkability chick in the green jersey. The only reason to watch them is when there is a possibility of a challenge on the touchdown.

Kicking field goals is such a peculiar and specialized thing. It has almost nothing to do with the rest of the sport but can be so decisive. It would be like getting extra runs in baseball by lacing up some skates and slapping a shoot-out shot after every home run.

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24 Responses to “Change extra points?”

  1. Tarr says:

    Gregg Easterbrook has advocated getting rid of all field goals and extra point kicks; just tear down the goalposts. That's a bit radical, I think.

    I think narrowing the goalposts, say by 30%, would have an interesting impact. If you do that, I think you should also move the PAT line back a couple yards, so that there's still parity between kicking and going for 2.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Isn't there parity between extra points and 2-point conversions right now? 99% chance of 1 point vs 50% chance of 2 points. Looks like parity to me.

  3. Dave Peer says:

    Going for two would require an expectation premium to compensate for the increased risk. I'm pretty much channeling Brian here.

  4. Dave Peer says:

    How much of a reduction in the PAT success rate could we expect from narrowing the goal posts? Those three misses out of 884 tries that Elfenbein refers to: were they straight misses or are blocks in there? What about bungled holds? Even if they were all misses, maybe that the task is so easy leads some kickers to lose focus, resulting in the very rare miss. Perhaps increasing the challenge of the PAT wouldn't decrease the accuracy. How many PATs made now would miss with narrower goal posts? I can't imagine that it would be too many. Love it for changing FG decisions, skeptical that it will change after-touchdown strategy very much.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Two suggestions for PATs.

    1: move them back and make them the equivalent of a 35 or 40 yard field goal.

    2: consider the origin of the game and where the name PAT comes from - in rugby the point after try is taken not between hash marks in the middle of the field but at a variable distance (selected by the kicking team) directly behind the point where the try is scored - the strange angles make the kicks much tougher (they also happen to be worth 2 pts...).

    Flashing memories of Doug Flutie drop kicking a PAT for the Patriots.

  6. Brian Burke says:

    Just to clarify, the 'balance' I'm referring to isn't necessarily the balance between kicking the PAT and going for 2. I'm mostly referring to the balance between the TD and FG. When I was a kid, it seemed like the 25-yd line was considered standard FG range. Now teams seem to try a FG anytime they get inside the 40.

    Anytime something in sports becomes nearly automatic, it's time to think hard about why it exists in the first place. My understanding is that the XP came into being to prevent lots of 6-6 and 12-12 ties. An XP was not a given 80 yrs ago. It was basically a crude tie-breaking system. Now what purpose does it serve? One out of 200 XPs will be misses and it has almost nothing to do with the difference in skill between teams and players. Nine times out of 10, the point won't even matter in the final tally.

    Another reform idea (in the purest sense of the word 'reform') would be to eliminate the kicking option and make the 2-pt conversion count as 1-pt.

    Dave-I don't think NFL kickers could ever miss an XP. I'd bet any miss is a block or a bad snap/hold.

    I don't know anything about rugby, but that idea sounds awesome.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Or the NFL can take a page from rugby where the spot of the ball for the extra points is parallel to where the ball is touched down in the endzone. That means if the touchdown is scored in a corner, the ball is spotted at the 3 yard line but at the sideline. As this would create a problem getting the entire line in the filed of play we could allow the spot to be within 5 yards of the sideline.

  8. Eddy Elfenbein says:

    I tried to track down the three misses from descriptions of the game. One was described as having a high snap, but it didn't say how it was missed. With another, the kicker slipped in the mud at Solider Field, managed to get up but had it blocked. And the third is a mystery.

  9. Jonathan says:

    Taylor Mehlhaff. He just flat out missed it in Wembley. The Saints cut him after the game.

  10. Eddy Elfenbein says:

    Thanks Jonathan. You can't really see it well but you can tell even the Brits knew he messed it up.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioKnSmiZuxE&NR=1

    54 second mark

  11. Jero says:

    How recent has the long snapper become a special teams position to be distiguished from the center? I seem to remember plenty of bad snaps and bungled holds as late as the mid-90s.

    I like the elimination of the kick and counting 2-pt plays as 1. It eliminates one, albeit increasingly infrequent, strategy regarding the decision to go for 1 or 2 however, the drop in success rate would compensate.


    Or, there needs to be an influx of kickers of foreign nationalities where an adjustment to the odd-shaped ball is required. [Thinking back to the SNL spoof of the "Super Bowl Shuffle"]

  12. mark says:

    Rugby conversions from the touchline have a success percentage in the mid 60's....and that's when the player gets to place the ball on a kicking tee,move the ball as far back as he wants to improve the kicking angle,compose himself and,unless the opposition can run very,very fast,he has no one trying to block the kick.Plus a rugby ball's easier to kick than an American football.

    It would certainly change the PAT into a real challenge:-)

  13. Adam says:

    Be careful what you wish for...

    While I agree that the actual act of kicking a PAT is boring to watch (because it's such a given), an important aspect to remember is the effect this has on the TD-vs.-FG valuation. Technically speaking, a TD is worth 2 FGs. But practically speaking, the TD is superior because it provides an almost guaranteed extra point. This means that for all practical purposes, the TD is worth 2 FGs + 1 point.

    Now imagine that you make the PAT much more difficult, so much so that the TD-scoring team many times ends up with only 6 points. You have now made the FG more valuable in relative terms, thus making it more likely that teams kick FGs rather than going for it on 4th down.

  14. bgates87 says:

    Adam is right- making the PAT more difficult increases the relative value of the FG. If you change an aspect of the kicking game it has to affect both kinds of attempts, PAT and FG. To do this you need to change what constitutes a successful kick attempt. In other words, you need to change the design of the field goal posts.

    There are a few ways to do this. The first, as already mentioned, is to simply move the uprights closer together.

    The other idea would be to add an upper limit to the attempt, essentially changing the goal posts from a "U" shape to a rectangle shape, where the ball must travel above the lower crossbar, between the outer uprights, and below the upper crossbar. This would force kickers to kick at a lower trajectory, increasing the chances of a kick being blocked and just making all kick attempts more difficult in general because of the decreased target area.

  15. Brian Burke says:

    Phil Birnbaum makes an interesting observation about the graph of XP% improvement in Eddie's post.

    He notes that it's rare we ever see direct evidence of athletic improvement over time because the opposition is improving too. In other words, how do we know how much better QBs are today than 30 years ago? We can't because the defenses have improved themselves. But FG kickers generally face the same challenge they did a generation ago. We can see just how much they've improved.

    Have the players at other positions improved just as much?

  16. Brian Burke says:

    I was wrong about the origination of the XP. It comes from rugby and not out of a need to break ties.

    From Wikipedia:

    The extra point is among the oldest parts of the game of gridiron football and dates to its soccer roots. In its earliest days, scoring a touchdown was not the primary objective but a means of getting a free kick at the goal (hence why the name "try," more commonly associated with rugby today, is still in American football rule books), and thus while a field goal would be 5 points, a touchdown would only be one point and the conversion would be worth four (for a total of five). By the start of the 20th century, touchdowns had become more important and the roles of touchdown and kick were reversed. By this time the point value for the after-touchdown kick had reduced to its current one-point value while the touchdown was now worth five. (This later increased to six points in American football in 1912 and in Canadian football in 1956.)

  17. Hawerchuk says:

    Here's an idea that doesn't involve changing anything except the PAT itself: require that the kicker drop-kick the ball on PATs. It would force a longer kick and a less-reliable play - which would create more 2-point conversion attempts. It's more difficult than the present process but would take nothing away from field goals. I'll admit that I stole the idea from when I played rugby...

  18. Anonymous says:

    Hawerchuk is right on. It would also force interesting situations when QBs who can dropkick can run trick plays!

  19. Anonymous says:

    I like the dropkick idea, but what if the player who scored the touchdown had to attempt the extra point. This idea came to me when I was thinking about my high school football team. Our "kicker" was also our running back. So everytime he scored a td, he had to line up and kick the pat. Needless to say, while he was probably our best kicker, he wasn't THE best kicker and extra points weren't a given.

  20. James says:

    I think the old WFL rule should be adopted.

    Touchdowns are 7 points, because a TD should be worth more than 2 FGs. No more kicking PATs. The WFL called it the "Action Point, basically the two-point conversion, but it's only worth one point.

  21. Anonymous says:

    TD SHOULD BE WORTH 7 POINTS...THE PROBLEM IS THESE RULES WERE WRITTEN OVER 100 YRS AGO...AND SHOULD REVISED AND CHANGE TO REFLECT TODAY'S STYLE OF PLAYS AND PLAYERS.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I'd love to see drop kicks, rugby style extra points, or narrowing the goalposts.. But the NFL simply isn't going to go for any of those, they'd be too radical..
    But how about this: move the PAT line in closer, instead of three, make it two or one yard.. The trick is to make the 2pt conversion more attractive.. This won't affect the kicking percentage at all.
    It wouldn't really change the look of the game, but it would add some variability to the game.. And I think that's what we are all really looking for.

  23. Jason says:

    Regarding extra points:

    Elfenbein gives a success rate for 2008 as 99.66%, or a failure rate of 0.34%. But nothing suggests that number is anything other than a random anomaly. His own graph shows a failure rate for 2007 of over 1%, or about three times higher. The NFL's 2009 kicker stats* show a failure rate of 1.30%.

    Granted, one percent isn't much, but I'll bet it's higher than the scoring rate for each "possession" in soccer.

    But more importantly, as James pointed out, the touchdown needs to be worth 7 points to maintain the relative scoring weight versus field goals. The seventh point is rubber-stamped with a conversion because that conversion is an alternative to going for two (an alternative I assume we all want to keep).

    I guess they could award 7 points and then allow the scoring team to "gamble" or "give back" one point. But that would just be weird.


    Regarding field goals in general:

    Here's a simple way to kill two or three birds with one stone:

    Increase the depth of the end zone by something like 2 - 5 yards.

    Field goals get harder.
    Touchdowns get easier.

    And, heck, with a (slight) reduction in the value of the "jumbo" package, it might even make for a (slight) trend in favor of athleticism over raw size, pushing up the "first heart attack" age for former NFL players as much as two years.**


    Cheers,
    Jason

    * http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?archive=false&conference=null&statisticCategory=FIELD_GOALS&season=2009&seasonType=REG&experience=null&tabSeq=0&qualified=true&Submit=Go

    ** No, I can't back that up.

  24. Steve Fice says:

    I have a NFL Football Rule change that would make the extra point more challenging and reward defense for slowing down the offense.
    Idea:
    When offense is within 10 yards of the goal line the extra point is moved back depending on what Down the offense scores the touchdown on.
    4th down TD - 40 yrds out
    3rd down TD - 30 yrds out
    2nd down TD - 20 yrds out
    1st down TD - 15 yrds out (normal)
    If a touchdown is scored outside 10 and goal, no matter what Down, offense takes the extra point from 15 yrds, as they passed their first down during that play.

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