The NFL changed the rules governing extra points. They experimented with ideas in the 2014 preseason, debated the switch, and even voted on three different proposals for changes, and in the process generated a lot of headlines to fill a rather newsless spot on the NFL calendar.
- The problem is, the NFL owners never voted on the right proposals.
Of all the proposals to modify the extra point, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made the best one. Unfortunately, the Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal never saw the light of day.
Does “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It” Apply to PAT’s in the NFL?
For over 100 years, the process has been simple. The offense scores a touchdown, and the kicker comes on to try an extra point. In 1994 the NFL added the two point conversion, which is nice to have, but really hasn’t altered the nature of the game. Arguably, failed 2 point conversion attempts have generated more controversy as opposed to successful ones generating excitement.
- What has changed are the percentages of successful extra point attempts.
Exact percentages of extra points made year by year are not easily available, but in 1932 the successful PAT percentage was 67%. By the time the NFL surpassed baseball as the most popular sport in the US, the extra point was approaching automatic.
- Now the extra point is essentially automatic.
As early as 2011 Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been calling for elimination of the play. As a general rule, if Bill Belichick is for something then that’s usually sufficient justification for anyone of integrity to be against it.
But as someone who has watched the NFL from Argentina for over 14 years, explaining purpose of the all but automatic extra point to a novice can present quite a challenge.
Heed the Cry of Elementary School Math Teachers?
Yet, if there’s a competitive argument for changing the extra point, tradition lends aid and comfort to those who resist change. A touchdown “should” be 7 points? Right? I mean, that’s just the way it is right? It’s as natural as the sun setting in the west?
- Afterall, there’s a reason why kids learning their time tables, or at least the boys, struggle until they get to their 7’s.
As a 2nd or 3rd grader what 9 times 4 is and they’ll probably need to think. Maybe they’ll reach for a calculator. But ask them what’s “5 times 7” and they’ll tell you “35” before you’re finished asking the question. And that’s because the kid instinctively knows that you’re asking him how much 5 touchdowns adds up to.
OK, perhaps the argument is a bit overstated, but Steelers President Art Rooney II has expressed support for the tradition of keeping 7 points as the traditional touchdown point value.
2015 Extra Point Rule Amounts to Superfluous Tinkering
The good news is that for 2015, the touchdown will still continue to be 7 points most of the time. The NFL has decided to spot the ball at the 10 yard line, making the extra point a 33 or 34 yard field goal. On paper, this is a HUGE deal, if for no other reason than it is the second scoring change the league has made in its 95 year history, the other changing being the introduction of the two point conversion in 1994.
- But NFL owners, interested in adding some excitement to the PAT, haven’t done much.
NFL kickers converted PAT’s at a rate of 99.4% in 2014. During the same season, field goals of the range of 30 yards were completed at a rate of just above 90%. More importantly, the ball will still be spot at the 2 yard line for teams wishing to go for two.
A big motive behind the rule change is to motivate coaches to go for 2, which only happened 59 times in 512 regular season games in 2014. But given that two point conversions are successful at just below 50% of the time, whereas the extra point figures to be a 90% proposition. Also keep in mind that the defense can return a failed two point conversion for 2 more points. This will be rare, but costly.
Stated simply, the smart money still says to take the easy one rather than a risky 2.
Mike Tomlin’s PAT Proposal Was Better
The idea of moving the extra point back got tested during the 2014 preseason, and comes as no surprise. The Eagles and the Patriots proposed their own alternatives, both of which had the ball being snapped from the 15. The Eagles would have placed the ball on the 1 for two point conversions.
- Neither idea was any better.
The idea of making the kicked extra point more difficult is a head scratcher. Field goals aren’t terribly exciting plays. Generally speaking their the consultation prize for failing to score a touchdown. Of course they’re a fundamental part of the game, and they do add excitement late in the game.
- Now the NFL is going to make a kick on fourth and goal worth more than an extra point which is now more difficult to make. This makes no sense.
Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal made fare more sense. Mike Tomlin proposed spotting the ball at the one (later incarnations had the ball going to the 1.5 yard line,) and allowing teams to either kick or go for two. This proposal doesn’t “punish kickers” yet still incentivizes the two point conversion.
Apparently though, this proposal met stiff resistance from coaches.
Baltimore Raven’s coach John Harbaugh criticized Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal harshly:
I think that’s just not a smart move. It would be a safety issue. You give a team an opportunity to run a quarterback sneak with the two tackles in there and the backs pushing in from behind, then it’s not football anymore. It’s rugby. I think that would be the result of it. Plus, you’d have all the pick plays from 1-yard out. That would be the play of choice.
That’s an interesting take to say the least. While quarterback sneaks do happen in goal line stands, they’re certainly not the most common play. And who ever heard of people complaining that goal lines stands were “too much like rugby.” Perhaps the memory of the Steelers successful garbage time goal line stand late in their loss to Baltimore last year is too fresh in Harbaugh’s memory.
Either way, the NFL owners never got a chance to vote on Mike Tomin’s PAT Proposal. Pity
Starkey Offers Creative, Bold PAT Plan
Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal might have been the best official one floated, but it isn’t perfect. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review offered his own PAT proposal, and this one has teeth. His plan is simple:
- Award 7 points for a touchdown
- Allow coaches to go for two – if they get it the TD =9 points total; if they fail they lose two
Now that’s a proposal that adds some real drama to the concept of a two point conversion. Opting to go for two becomes the essence of a risk-reward decision.
At the of the day however, Starkey’s proposal probably isn’t practical. Allowing for a potential 4 point swing in the score of a touchdown is a double edged sword that create as many lopsided routs as it does competitive barn burners.
The real wisdom of Starkey’s proposal lies in simply awarding 7 points for a touchdown, and still giving coaches the chance to go for two. Provided that the NFL does use the extra time to add in even MORE commercials and/or stops in game play, this is a proposal that makes sense.
A Word on Those Conservative Coaches
Commentators love to bash coaches for not being more bold, and coaches refusal to attempt the two point conversion is a perfect example. That’s understandable, to a point. Writers want something to write about. Nothing generates copy – and web page visits — like a bold play call; bold calls that fail generate even more excitement.
But here’s a little secret:
- NFL coaches get paid to win
- You win by adding more points than the other coach
- Therefore a shot at 1 point with a 90% success rate beats a shot at 2 with slightly below 50%
Yes, people have said that if you crunch the numbers, attempting the 2 point conversion will work out in the long run to be more advantageous. But dice do not have memories, and any coach that has a chance to take the or tie a game by kicking for 1 point at any point in the second half is going to take the safe route.
It’s easy to say, “Ah, he should have the balls to go for it there…” until your team comes up short and loses by 1 point.