Fix It: No Standing PAT

This article is part of my “Fix It” series. Each article in the series examines one problem facing the NBA or NFL and offers a potential solution. Please feel free to comment with your own ideas on how to fix the problem.

Your heart is pounding as the professor hands back the exams. You tightly close your eyes as he drops it on your desk and walks past you. You finally muster up the courage to peek just enough to notice a red "94" at the top of the page. "What a relief!" you remark as you open your eyes. And that's when you see it: a big fat 'F', right below the "94."

The Problem

The Chicago Bears ranked dead last in the NFL last season with a 94.3% conversion rate on extra points. The average was 99.5% and only six teams finished below 100% - and there was no curve! The purpose of competitive sports is to separate oneself from the competition, but the Point After Touchdown is clearly failing to cause any separation.

Additionally, the extra point does not carry a whole lot of value. It is worth just one point. So even if you do manage to miss one, it is rarely going to affect the outcome of the game. 

Here is a chart detailing all eight missed extra points from the 2014 Season:

1Kai ForbathWashington RedskinsHouston TexansL 6-17
3Shayne GrahamNew Orleans SaintsMinnesota VikingsW 20-9
6Robbie GouldChicago BearsAtlanta FalconsW 27-13
8Dan CarpenterBuffalo BillsNew York JetsW 43-23
11Mason CrosbyGreen Bay PackersPhiladelphia EaglesW 53-20
14Jay FeelyChicago BearsDallas CowboysL 28-41
14Mason CrosbyGreen Bay PackersAtlanta FalconsW 43-37
14Greg ZuerleinSt. Louis RamsWashington RedskinsW 24-0

None of those games were decided by a single point. In fact, only one was decided by even a single possession. Some of these games were huge blowouts. In other words, we have to be lucky to have a season in which even one game is impacted by a missed PAT.

The relative lack of impact of the PAT has relegated it, in the eyes of fans, to an opportune time to answer the call of nature, rather than a play with any entertainment value. Last season, the average game featured a total of 4.64 touchdowns; it's safe to assume that few fans are drinking nearly enough water or beer to take advantage of quite so many bathroom breaks!

A much more exciting play is the two-point conversion. Not only is it worth twice as much as the PAT, but it actually resembles the typical football play that NFL fans obviously love to watch.

Unfortunately, the two-point conversion is quite rare in the NFL. This past season there were exactly 59 such attempts in the 256-game regular season, or one per 4.3 games. Teams were successful on 28 of them, or 47.5% - less than half the rate of the extra point. The extra point is therefore both the safer and more valuable play on average, giving teams no incentive to go for two in any but the most extreme of circumstances.

The Solution

Luckily, the NFL has already addressed one of the problems this offseason. Starting in 2015, a new rule will be in place to move the location for extra points back to the 15-yard line, instead of the two. While kickers will likely still make the vast majority of extra points (likely close to 95%), these kicks will no longer be essentially automatic.

It remains to be seen exactly how much the change - which will result in 32 or 33-yard attempts - will alter the success rate of PATs or incentivize teams to go for two. However, the NFL will likely continue to adjust the distance in future seasons until they find one which they believe is appropriate. At the very least, this is a good start.

Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that extra points are currently worth too little to consistently effect games.

Simply making the PAT worth an additional point is not an option. This would result in the two-point conversion being a more difficult way to achieve the same result, rendering the play completely useless. In order for teams to ever consider the "two-point conversion," it would have to be worth twice as much as the PAT, or four points. This would allow for the possibility of touchdown plays being worth ten points total - more than three times that of a field goal. In order to prevent teams from abandoning the field goal, it would have to be upped to four points. Now that everything is worth more, we are back to the original problem of the extra point being almost worthless.

A much better option is to force teams to wager a point when kicking the PAT. In other words, a missed PAT would result in the touchdown play being worth merely five points, while a make would earn seven. This fix strikes the magical balance of making the kick more important while also encouraging teams to choose the alternative.

But why stop there? This is not going to prevent fans from using the facilities, checking their fantasy teams, clipping their toenails, or doing just about anything but watching the game during the time between touchdown and kickoff.

Rather than having teams attempting a bunch of boring extra points, we should have them take one super exciting one. Under this plan, teams will decide whether they want to go for two immediately after they score a touchdown. If they do choose to go for two, they will receive six points and will then attempt the conversion right away. All of that follows the current procedure exactly.

However, if they select to take the PAT, they will be awarded only five points. There will then be commercials, followed by the kickoff. During the two minute warning in the second half, each team will attempt a single kick. If the kick is successful the team will receive two points for every touchdown they scored for which they did not attempt a two-point conversion. Otherwise, they will receive nothing.

Any extra point attempted after with fewer than two minutes remaining in the second half will immediately follow the touchdown. The last two minutes of close games are already filled with intense drama, and there is no reason to alter them.

Combining the extra points will not drastically affect the probability that the kick will be made (assuming the kicker is not significantly affected by pressure), nor the average number of points accumulated from all of the extra points.

However, it will make the average NFL game a lot more electrifying. There would no longer be the need for such a prolonged break between a touchdown and the ensuing kickoff. More importantly, this format would give teams who are behind by multiple possessions in the fourth quarter extra hope for a comeback.

The NFL has made some positive changes this offseason, and it deserves a solid grade. However, the NFL needs to adopt the proposals above if it wants a big fat 'A+'.

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