What to do with the extra point?

Posted: 08/04/2014 by levcohen in Football

The extra point has long been one of the, no, scratch that, the most meaningless play in football. It’s not that the one point that nearly always results from the play is meaningless, because it’s not: one point is more meaningful than you might think. That’s why teams rarely go for two in most situations, although advanced metrics say they probably should go for two points more often. Anyway, it’s not the fact that an extra point is just one point that makes the play meaningless. Rather, it’s the fact that there’s really only one outcome: a successful conversion. Why? Because it’s kicked from the two yard line, which amounts to a 19 or 20-yard field goal. You and I would probably make this kick more often than not, and for professional kickers, it’s a gimme. The stats, of course, back that up: last year, 1278 of 1283 attempted extra points were converted, which is over 99.6%.

Ok, so the extra point is stupid because it is successful every. single. time. Why am I bringing this up now? Well, because the Hall of Fame game yesterday was the first game in a two week experiment which calls for the extra point to be snapped from the 15-yard-line, making it equivalent to a 33-yard field goal. This isn’t a permanent change, at least not yet: the traditional extra point will return in the third preseason week and will likely remain throughout this season. Yesterday, the new extra point was no problem, as in the Giants’ 17-13 win over the Bills, kickers were 3-3. It’s not exactly a huge change, but it won’t have a 99.6% success rate; last year, kickers made 89.8% of field goals between 30 and 39 yards. The conversion percentage will likely be even higher than that, as all extra points are placed in the center of the field, while field goal position depends on where the ball ended up the previous play. Expect the extra point percentage to drop to perhaps the 91-93% range.

Some people, including Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, strongly oppose any change in the extra point. Tucker had some strong words: “I think people are proposing some of these rule changes just because maybe they don’t have anything better to do,” he said. Notwithstanding Tucker’s comments, the movement to make the most automatic part of the game less automatic makes a lot of sense. It’s pretty clear that the extra point will be changed in the near future, but is moving it to the 15-yard line the optimal change?

There have been some other ideas on how to change the extra point. Legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has often pointed out that the extra point is unnecessary, proposes that the line of scrimmage on extra points should be moved back a further 10 yards to the 25 yard line. Last season, field goals between 40-and-49 yards were converted about 83% of the time, so this would make extra points even less automatic. There’s a problem with Belichick’s plan, though, and it’s a problem that might also come up in the 15-yard line experiment. In both of these examples, teams can still opt to go for two points… at the two yard line. Even now, teams should probably go for two more often. A two point conversion from the two yard line has about a 50% success rate, so it makes a decision between that and an extra point from the same distance just that: a decision. But as the extra point is moved back, the decision becomes easier and easier. Would you rather have a 90% chance at one point or a 50% chance at two?

Another option calls for the abolition of the extra point. A touchdown would automatically count for seven points, and teams would still have the option to “go for two.” If they were to convert the two point conversion, they’d gain an extra point, but if they were to fail, they’d go back to six points. The NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, is very fond of this idea, and it makes a lot of sense. It’s basically the same thing as we have now, except that we’d save some time by getting rid of the automatic extra point. It has its detractors, though. Kicking has been marginalized recently, in particular by the new kickoff from the 35-yard line. It should, kickers and their supporters say, remain a big part of the game, and the abolition of the extra point would marginalize it even further. It also removes one of the most exhilarating and shocking outcomes, a blocked or missed extra point, from the game, thus making the game less exciting and rendering this change counterproductive.

For these reasons, I think moving the extra point back rather than abolishing it is the way to go, as long as the two point conversion line of scrimmage is also moved back. I suggest a compromise: extra points should be kicked from the 20-yard line, while two point conversions must be attempted from the 5-yard line. While this is a simple proposal, it’s one that checks off all the boxes. The extra point will be more exciting and no longer a gimme, kicking would be accentuated, and teams would still have a tough decision to make between going for two and kicking the extra point. This rule change would make having a good kicker even more important: a team could take someone off the street to hit a 20-yard field goal, but 38-yarders are a different story. That’s why I think moving the line of scrimmage on extra points and two point conversions back is a win-win. It makes the game more exciting, does not diminish the importance of kicking, and makes a coach’s decision on what to do after a touchdown more intriguing. This is a proposition, I hope, that Roger Goodell, Bill Belichick, and Justin Tucker can all agree on. I don’t see why they wouldn’t.

  1. dpcathena says:

    Not sure Justin Tucker would like your proposal, as it still diminishes the total points opportunity.

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