The NFL has a relatively small dilemma: extra points are too easy. So easy, in fact, that they are converted 99% of the time. Some have advocated to do away with extra points entirely, arguing that they are simply a waste of time. But what if there was a better solution?
The first obvious idea is to move the kick back. Currently, extra points are snapped from the 2 yard line, making them a 20-yard kick — a chip shot, slam dunk for any NFL kicker. But how do we decide how far back is enough?
You could move the ball back 15 yards and still get a success rate of around 90%. If making the play interesting to the fan is the goal, we would have to go further back, but what’s a fair distance? I’d say a 50-yard field goal would make things interesting, and here’s why.
50-yard field goals are successful roughly 50% of the time, which just so happens to be the rough success rate of 2-point conversions (48%). Faced with the choice of a 50-yard field goal, or a 2-point conversion from the 2 yard line, you would bet we would see more teams going for 2 in more situations other than what we see today. It would also place a higher premium on quality kickers who could potentially increase a team’s average extra-point conversion rate above 50%.
But there might be an even better solution, and it comes from the sport that ultimately influenced the invention of American football: rugby.
If you don’t know, rugby is similar to football in that one team attempts to score a try (touchdown) in another team’s goal area (endzone). The rules regarding how the team can get there are what make the sport very different, but nonetheless, after a score, the team must attempt a conversion by kicking the ball through uprights.
In rugby, the location where you attempt that conversion depends entirely on where you score in the goal area. The conversion is attempted at any spot on the field in a direct line behind the point at which the try was made. It’s because of this that a try is not made until the ball is touched to the ground, not just by “breaking the plane” as in the NFL. So often you’ll see a successful scorer continue to attempt to reach the middle of the goal area before touching the ball down.
So imagine this in the NFL. A team that scores on a short run right up the gut would get to kick from the middle of the field. But score by diving for the pylon in the corner and you’d be forced to kick the extra point from close to the sideline at a distance of your choosing.
Perhaps we would need to set limits to this, like a minimum sideline buffer for those pylon dives and back corner fades. Maybe the numbers would do? We need room to allow the players to line up, after all. It would essentially be a second wider set of hashes to place the ball at for the extra point. Kickers would need to back the kick up several yards in order to make room to squeeze between the uprights.
Now that’s more exciting than a 20-yard kick with a 99% success rate, right? There’s even strategy involved. If a team is down 7 points late, they will be looking to score close to the middle of the field so they can have a better chance to make that important game-tying extra point. And ultimately, teams may be more likely to take their chances at 2 point conversions with these new challenges on extra points.
Extra points in the NFL aren’t going anywhere for the time being. I wouldn’t expect to see any changes in 2014 or even 2015, but at least the conversation has started. Someday, maybe rugby will provide inspiration for more challenging conversions.