It may not happen next year, it may not happen within five years, but it will happen, and the NFL's top man is on board: Roger Goodell says the Competition Committee has a number of proposals to do away with the extra point, and he's a fan of one in particular.
The extra point is an anachronism, a vestige of a time when it wasn't a gimme. In 1932, for example, kickers successfully converted PATs just 67 percent of the time. In 1974, when the goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone, the success rate hovered around 90 percent. And since 1984, when defenders were prohibited from taking running leaps, it hasn't been below 95 percent. (In 2013, kickers were 1,256 for 1,261 on PATs, a whopping 99.6 percent accuracy rate.)
Here's a stunning graph that shows the steady increase in accuracy for both field goals and extra points over the years, but the point is clear—it's too easy, and kickers are too good.
In an appearance on NFL Network yesterday, Goodell agreed that the PAT is almost a useless, "automatic" play at this point. ("The penny of the NFL," Rich Eisen called it, and I think that's spot-on.) It adds nothing, runs a barely nonzero risk of failure, and a higher risk of injury. And among the ideas to do away with it, Goodell singled out one.
"There's one proposal in particular that I've heard about," Goodell went on. "It's automatic that you get seven points when you score a touchdown, but you could potentially go for an eighth point, either by running or passing the ball, so if you fail, you go back to six."
This seems simple and fair. Assume the PAT will be a success, so award the extra point without even running the play. It would preserve the familiar seven-point scoring block, but still allow for teams to go double-or-nothing on a two-point conversion.
But it's not the only option to reform the extra point. Some others have been tossed around, and could bring a little excitement back to the play:
- Take a page from rugby. The PAT is already a holdover from the "conversion," worth two points in rugby (the NFL rulebook still calls it a "try"). So why not adopt rugby's practice of taking the kick not from between the hash marks, but from wherever the touchdown was scored? If a team crosses the goal line just in-bounds, force them to take the PAT from the two-yard line at that spot; the angle will be sharp and the target smaller.
- Move the line of scrimmage back. The linked chart above shows the success rate for 30-39 yard field goals to be just under 90 percent, or about as easy as the PAT was in the 1970s. If teams have to convert the extra point from the 20 or the 25, instead of the 2, it'll no longer be a given.
- Make the player who scored the touchdown kick the PAT. My personal favorite, because chaos. Marshawn Lynch ran the ball in for six points? He's got to get the seventh too. This will never happen, because you can just picture Peyton Manning tearing a quad attempting a placekick, but I very badly want it to, if just for the occasional offensive lineman touchdown.
Weaning ourselves off the PAT will be difficult, and maybe painful. The extra point has been a part of American football from the very beginning, and change is hard, but we can do it. It's only been 20 years since the two-point conversion fundamentally changed NFL scoring, and now we can barely remember life without it.
As a preliminary eulogy, let's relive the most exciting extra point of all time.