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The Coin Toss is the CU Independent’s weekly sports debate column. This time, CUI sportswriters Tommy Wood and Andrew Haubner discuss the NFL’s proposal to move the extra point back to the 20-yard line.
Tommy Wood: To start, I like this proposal. The extra point has survived about three years too long, in my opinion. It was never exciting, and now it is automatic to the point of being useless. After all, kickers converted 99.5 percent of extra points last year. Twenty-seven teams didn’t miss one. Jacksonville, being the worst in the league, still connected on 95.6 percent. Either of the proposed solutions, which are moving it to the 20-yard-line or eliminating it entirely, would be a major improvement over the current system, which only slows games down.
Andrew Haubner: Moving a kicker back twenty yards is a change, but is it really significant? A 20-yarder is essentially a chip shot for NFL kickers, so it doesn’t seem like moving things back will matter. That said, I’ve always thought the extra point was good for the game. Special teams is obviously on the decline in the NFL, and by taking away the extra point, the league could be unintentionally marginalizing a lot of players. Also, think about player safety. If you kill the PAT and choose to have only two point conversions, you add another 4-5 plays per game during which players can hurt themselves. We’ve seen people get hurt on the PAT (Rob Gronkowski, anybody?), so now picture adding essentially another offense/defensive series to each game. Overall, I don’t see it as a constructive edit to the rule book.
Wood: It wouldn’t be that much of a chip shot, seeing as placing the ball at the 20 makes it a 37-yard attempt (the ball is spotted seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, and the end zone is 10 yards). Kickers hit 86.5 of their attempts between 30 and 39 yards last year, which was 10 percent less than their conversion rate for extra points. It’s not a huge difference, but it causes enough doubt that teams would consider going for two more often. That would not only make games higher-scoring and more exciting (who wouldn’t rather watch an actual play than a 19-yard kick?), but also create some compelling end-of-game scenarios. If a team trailing by seven scores a late touchdown, the decision to go for the tie or win becomes much more difficult. A lot of teams may feel that they have a better chance of gaining two yards to win than kicking a 37-yarder to tie. For example, the Saints’ Garrett Hartley hit only 62 percent of his attempts between 30 and 39 yards last year; New Orleans would be better off throwing quick fades to Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham than kicking.
Haubner: If we want to talk about compelling end-of-game scenarios, the one point differential you can get via an extra point is one of the toughest decisions to make as a coach. Do you go for the tie, or take two to win? That is arguably one of the more compelling decisions of all sports. There is a 50% conversion rate for two pointers, so it will be interesting to hear coaches cry foul because they are so used to PAT’s the way they have been. No one forces coaches to take the PAT; that’s why the two point conversion is in existence. Honestly, I just can’t see the proposed rule change making much of a difference. Garrett Hartley hits 62 percent of his kicks, which, even at worst, is still better than the conversion rate of a seven-yard two point conversion.
Wood: Some teams will opt for two-point conversions a lot if the extra point is moved back, though. Take Carolina — they are the league’s best short-yardage team, and their success rate would be much greater than 50 percent if they went for two frequently. I would even stretch to say they would be better than 62 percent. Carolina converted more fourth-and-two (or less) scenarios than any other team last year; a two-point conversion is basically just fourth-and-two. As far as coaching, the dilemma is an interesting one. Does John Fox send out Matt Prater, who was perfect from 30-39 yards last year, or does he send out Peyton Manning, who has thrown more one-yard touchdown passes than any player in league history? NFL coaches are notoriously risk-averse, but the analytics crowd has been clamoring for more aggression for years. Maybe it’s time to finally listen. More importantly, a more difficult choice is just another layer of delicious strategy for fans, coaches and hacks like you and me to discuss. It would just be fun.
Haubner: I’ll agree that it’ll be more fun to watch, but I’d like to retouch on the dilemma of aggression and safety mentioned earlier. How will coaches be able to balance the safety of their players with their aggression to score more points? After Gronk’s injury, many pundits claimed that it was unnecessary to have him in because the PAT is a throwaway play. If you view any PAT (two-pointers included) as throwaway plays, which I’m leaning toward currently, then throwing your first team out for what is essentially a fourth-and-two situation is unnecessary.
Finally, what I don’t like about all of this lies in the traditional changes taking place between the NFL and NBA right now. Here we’re talking about moving extra points back, 4-point shots, and gimmicks that executives think will make the games exciting. Here’s my message to NFL executives and Mr. Goodell: You made $9 billion in revenue last year. You do not need a rule change, much less anything else, to increase your viewership, unless you’re outsourcing the league abroad. I’ll add that this didn’t work the first time around anyway (NFL Europe). There just doesn’t seem to be convincing evidence that revising PATs is a pressing issue for the league.