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You think the NFL spent an incredible amount of time determining if footballs were underinflated for the AFC Championship Game? Know this: It has taken many multiples of that time frame to debate the future of the extra point, a play that has been nearly automatic for more than a decade.
Provided they aren't sidetracked by Deflategate turmoil, NFL owners appear likely this week to tweak the long-standing practice of kicking an extra point from the 2-yard line after touchdowns. Three proposals will be presented at their spring meetings in San Francisco, and the most likely to pass -- given its recent endorsement by the competition committee -- is one that would push the kick out to the 15-yard line and leave the two-point conversion at the 2-yard line. It also would make the play "live," meaning the defense could return a blocked kick or a turnover on a two-point play for one or two points, respectively.
The intent of these changes is to add some level of drama and uncertainty to the period between a touchdown and the ensuing kickoff, a worthwhile goal. NFL place-kickers have been converting at least 98 percent of their extra points since 2000. That figure has hovered above 99 percent since 2010, providing little incentive to go for two-point plays. Coaches attempted them after just 4.9 percent of touchdowns last season; they were converted at a rate of 47.5 percent.
But is this the best way to accomplish the goal? There were 41 field goal-attempts last season from 33 yards. Only two were missed. The conversion rate for 33-yard field goals over the past five seasons is 92.8 percent (154-of-166). An extra point from the 15-yard line would be incrementally more difficult but still converted roughly 95 out of 100 times. If the rule were in place last season, when 1,230 extra points were attempted, there would have been about 62 misses based on those percentages.
Coaches and general managers were so divided on the issue at the March owners meetings that no consensus could be reached, prompting one coach to joke that the league should just award seven points for a touchdown and be done with it. But commissioner Roger Goodell was so determined to effect a balancing act for the 2015 season that he sent the competition committee back into discussions and requested a consensus in time for this week's meetings.
I found considerable support last year among coaches for a simpler change: Moving the post-touchdown line of scrimmage to the 1-yard line, presumably incentivizing coaches to attempt more two-point conversions. That idea is incorporated in one of the three proposals to be presented this week, from the Philadelphia Eagles. (The third bid is from the New England Patriots and is similar to the competition committee's but does not make the play live.)
As the chart shows, recent history suggests a two-point play from the 1-yard line would have a conversion rate around 60 percent. That would be far more entertaining and much less certain than a 33-yard extra point, but opposition to the idea emerged in several forms -- most interestingly from Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
"I think that's just not a smart move," Harbaugh said in March. "It would be a safety issue. You give a team an opportunity to run a quarterback sneak with the two tackles in there and the backs pushing in from behind, then it's not football anymore. It's rugby. I think that would be the result of it. Plus, you'd have all the pick plays from 1 yard out. That would be the play of choice."
Of course, as the Patriots demonstrated in the Super Bowl, it is possible to defend a pick play at the goal line. And if a "rugby play" is truly automatic, it's fair to ask why teams don't use it for every goal-line play.
In the bigger picture, sliding the post-touchdown play to the 1-yard line is the most aesthetic and organic change. Imagine explaining football to someone who had never seen a game. If this proposal passes, the rules will award three points for some kicks from the 15-yard line and one point for others, while all kicks from the 14 and in would be worth three points. Also, it's fair to question whether fans would be entertained by more missed extra point attempts or simply annoyed.
It's possible that owners could further tweak the proposals during debate this week, which notably will occur without coaches present. In any form, the result will make the extra point attempt less certain. But by how much? And via what method? An answer, finally, could come this week.