If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. According to Wikipedia, it’s a phrase made popular by Thomas Lance, the Director of Management and Budget under President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Mr. Lance was a businessman, and it sounds like good business to leave what’s working alone. Why not… it’s working? Apparently the National Football League has ignored this phrase altogether! We’ve heard reports that their competition committee has had serious conversations about expanding the playoff field by two teams, increasing the number of eligible teams from 12 to 14. More recent reports have them contemplating a change to the nearly automatic point-after touchdown (PAT), or the extra point. If it ain’t broke… ah, never mind!
The league is considering moving the extra point from the 2-yard line, to the 25-yard line. That would make the normally automatic 19-yard kick a bit more challenging (42-yard kick). In 2014, NFL kickers nailed the extra point nearly 99% of the time, which makes Commissioner Roger Goodell’s comments on the matter very understandable. I ask Mr. Goodell, if we indeed “want to add excitement with every play”, how about we take a serious look at a serious overhaul of the point-after touchdown?
Currently in the NFL, after a touchdown, the scoring team’s field goal (FG) unit trots onto the field to attempt a kick after the ball is placed on the two-yard line by the referee. The kick is normally attempted from the middle of the field, with the holder setting up seven yards from the line of scrimmage. Including the 10-yard end zone, the 19-yard distance is a virtual chip-shot for average kickers. Here are some ideas the NFL Competition Committee could kick around:
MOVE THE BALL: They’re already thinking about moving it back, but how about moving the ball side-to-side. Either at its current distance, or at the discussed distance of 42 yards, how about moving the ball according to how the ball carrier or receiver breaks the plane of the goal line? This would allow for the kick to be attempted from the left hash mark, dead center, or the right hash mark. This would add an intriguing degree of difficulty, as well as a level of interest, to the PAT.
MOVE THE POSTS: In college and the pros, the goal posts are 18 feet and six inches apart. I know my next suggestion will have an impact on field goal attempts as well, but why not move the posts inward a foot or two on each side. If they reduce the distance by a foot and three inches on each side, making it 16 feet total, I think the result will satisfy those that feel kicks in general are less challenging than they used to be. It’s only shaving off a total off 30 total inches, but that subtle change will increase the level of difficulty on all kicks.
Moving the ball from the two-yard line to the 25-yard line (as has been reported) will change more than just the difficulty of the PAT, it will change how coaches strategize on special teams. What if you want to try for two? What happens to the two-point conversion? Will the NFL allow teams that want to go for two points to line up at the traditional mark, which would eliminate the element of surprise altogether?
What if either team commits a penalty on the play? If the defense commits the foul on the 42-yard PAT, can the team reconsider and go for two points from the one-yard line (credited half the distance to the goal because of the defensive infraction)? How about a flag on the offense? If you’re going for two and commit a foul, can you change your mind and attempt the extra point from 5, 10 or even 15-yards further back? Can you imagine this scenario: a 57-yard extra point attempt or a two-point conversion from 17 yards away being a coach’s only options?
MY SOLUTION: Keep the ball where it is (19-yard PATs). I say leave it at the two-yard line, but move the ball from hash-to-hash depending on where the ball carrier or receiver breaks the plane of the goal line as described above. I’m also in favor of moving the distance between the goal posts inward 21 inches on each side, making the total distance between posts 15 feet (shaving three and a half feet off the current distance between the posts). I know it’s an extreme change, and FG kickers won’t like this one bit. I think it would add a level of excitement to the PAT, the FG, and allow for special teams coaches to keep the traditional FG-fake by not making a team declare their intention prior to any attempt.
The NFL Competition Committee meets in late March, and it’ll take ratification by 24 of the 32 owners for any changes to happen. My fear with adding playoff teams, a dilution of one of the most entertaining postseason in sports. Only the top seed from each conference will get a bye in the proposed scenario, but I’m weary of weakening the field by adding another team… but money speaks louder than I do! When it comes to the extra point, I think a little imagination could go a long way for the game we’ve come to love.