NFL makes right call on extra points
The NFL had to do something about the extra point.
It needed either to eliminate the kick or make it more difficult, because it was putting players in harm's way for no good reason. Last year, teams made 99.6 percent of their extra-point kicks. It had become a non-play.
The league's answer, determined by a vote at the NFL owners meetings Tuesday, is to move the ball back to the 15-yard line, making the extra point a 33-yard kick; or, allowing a two-point play attempt from the 2-yard line. The change is for one year only, so this is a trial season, and the owners will need a two-thirds majority for it to continue after 2015.
There's a decent argument they could move back even a little further, and perhaps they eventually will. Regardless, with how much kickers have improved over the last 30 years, this was the right move. Even at its new distance— 33 yards — it's a high-percentage kick, but at least it's not a gimme.
And for anybody who says this will drastically change the game, here's some perspective:
First, according to a New York Times article from 2011, the ball had been placed at the 2-yard line for extra points since 1929. The same article said that in 1932, kickers made only 67 percent of their extra-point attempts.
Many of the league's rules have changed since then, so why not this?
A look at more recent history also is instructive.
In 1974, the NFL moved the goal posts from the front of the end zone to the back, adding 10 yards to the distance, and making the extra point a 17- or 18-yard kick. In the next 10 years beginning that season, teams made 93.3 percent of their extra-point attempts, according to data available from Pro Football Reference. Take it from someone who was watching at the time, the game didn't seem skewed by those 6.7 percent misses.
I couldn't find any data on 33-yard field goal attempts from last season — field-goal statistics are kept in 10-yard increments, from 20 to 29 yards, and so on. But from 30 to 39 yards, NFL kickers in 2014 made 90.1 percent of their attempts, according to The MMQB. It's a safe bet the percentage is a tad higher at 33 yards specifically, so the odds of converting an extra point this season won't be appreciably worse than they were from 1974-83.
I'm sure most kickers won't like the new rule, because the increase in misses will just open them to more abuse. But it makes their position a little more important. And I don't see any teams gaining an advantage, because on any given day the kicking conditions will be the same for both teams.
I asked three NFL front-office executives Tuesday whether they favored the rule change, and all three said yes. Two thought it would add a little strategy and excitement to the game; the third was for it just to see, though he suspects that after a few years the league will revert to the rule as it was.
Theoretically, teams will be tempted to go for two points more than they do now, though I'm not convinced. Kickers are so good, I just don't see coaches regularly giving up a 90-plus percent chance for one point when the conversion rate on two-pointers last season was 47.5 percent (28-for-59). The one factor that might change their mind is horrendous weather.
It probably will take something more drastic to induce more two-point tries. Perhaps moving the extra-point spot to the 25, as the league did in experimenting with the rule the first two weeks of the preseason last year.
But this is a good first step, and maybe it will be enough. At least now there's a reason for players to risk injury and fans to watch extra points.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.