Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stand PAT: A Case For Keeping The Extra Point In the NFL

No doubt with all the press about the upcoming Superbowl, Roger Goodell has recently been talking a lot about doing away with the extra point in football. This, I'm afraid, is a bad idea.

On the face of it, it makes sense. The extra point in the NFL--a touchdown is 6 points, and having the kicker kick the ball through the uprights adds an extra point to make it 7--is drama-free and kind of boring. The number of misses is miniscule (less than a half a percentage point per season amongst all teams). Why not just do away with it, save some time, and get on with the game?

Well, there are a few reasons why it makes sense for it to play.

The biggest reason is the 2-point conversion. Nearly all of the time teams go for the extra point. However, they have the option to go for two--that is, pass or run the ball to effectively make a second touchdown, getting two points instead of one. It's risky and not used very often, but when it is used it's extraordinary exciting. Now, Goodell's proposal would still allow this option--if you opt for the two point conversion and fail, you revert back to 6 points--but then the tension of having a fake occur disappears. It's rare, but it's awesome when it happens.

Personally, I prefer the NFL's odd-scoring system. In pretty much every other sport you simply get a point for getting a goal/home run/etc. (Basketball, of course, has the three-point line.) In football, you've got all kinds of options: touchdown, extra point, two point conversion, safety, and field goal. Having a mix of scoring opportunities increases the strategy of the game--going on fourth vs. field goal attempt is always dramatic, as is the aforementioned conversion. Lessening the number of ways to score subtracts ever so slightly from this strategy, and I think the chess-like system in place is pretty solid.

While missed extra points are rare, they do happen, and they do affect games. On regular autumn days it's not very exciting, but when it's raining, or snowing, or the wind is whipping everything around, there's always that fleeting chance that the kicker is going to miss. Again, it's rare, but it adds just a small amount of tension into games that might otherwise not be very interesting.

And, finally, it lessens the importance of kickers. Kickers are always the odd guy on the team, much like goalies are in hockey--they're necessary, but their training and skill set is so vastly different than everyone else on the team that they live in a different realm. By taking away a fairly large part of their job it lessens their role on the team, and quirky kickers can be an awesome asset to the PR of a team. They wouldn't go away, of course--they still need to make field goals--but they'll certainly get paid less, and that's just not cool.

In the end, of course, I suppose it won't make that much difference, By eliminating the extra point, it would make some very rare plays slightly less interesting. It wouldn't break the game. But from a systemic standpoint, football is pretty well balanced. I'm not sure upsetting that balance is really needed.

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