Thursday, May 19, 2016

Get Rid of the Extra Point

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Giants kicker Ken Strong
In 2015 the NFL moved the extra point back to the 15-yard line, making the point after touchdown roughly a 32-yard kick. Between 2010-2014 NFL kickers missed just 37 of 6,153 extra points. But this past fall in 2015 NFL kickers missed 71 extra points (1,146 of 1,217). According to the NFL the 71 missed extra points was the most since 1977- when 72 were missed.

Now the NFL has begun talk of removing the kickoff from the game. NFL kickers have been put on notice. But talk of removing “the kick” out of the NFL has been discussed for decades- especially the good old extra point. 

Tim Mara’s Crusade Against the Extra Point

In 1932 the NFL was at a cross-road. Play on the field became stale and boring. The owners met after that season to try and solve the problem. The first thing to be discussed was what to do about all these tie games. Out of the 57 regular-season games in 1932 a total of 10 ended in a tie (17 %). Giants’ owner Tim Mara talked to the New York Times on what might be done.

      “In every sport but football the authorities have sought to avoid a tie score. No matter whom you are rooting for you don’t want to see a game end in a tie. The game has reached such a stage now that few field goals are attempted. The one desire seems to be a touchdown

      I think that if the point after touchdown were eliminated it would stimulate placements or drop kicks from the field.

      This (past) season we had made arrangements with the Chicago Bears in a game out there that if it end in a tie we would experiment with an overtime period. This plan might not be feasible for collegians, but I think it would work out for the professionals. I believe that our men are in better physical condition and that it would not affect them as much. [If after overtime period the game is still tie]I guess they would have to allow the tie to remain.

      These statistics show how ridiculous it is to decide a game on such a mechanical thing as making the extra point. A team could have kicked off and resumed play in the time devoted to preparation of the extra point play.”

Newspaper article with Tim Mara quote
Credit: Wilmington (DE) Morning News
Jan. 10, 1933
Eliminating the extra point was a radical idea (which eventually didn’t happen) but Mara’s other arguments were right on the nose. During the 1932 season the NFL saw just SIX field goals made- Dutch Clark led the league with half of them (3). In comparison the league saw SEVEN safeties, eight if you count the one in the indoor play-off game between the Portsmouth Spartans and Chicago Bears. Something had to be done when the stats showed that teams scored more safeties than field goals. Scoring had to be encouraged by more scoring, which in theory would reduce the potential of low scoring-tie games.

      “Spectators are opposed to drawn-out games. They want rapid action, intermingled with thrills and glamour which have made football such a great spectacle. If the new rules detract from the glamour of the game, we will have to revise them to suit our needs. It is our desire to open up the game and give the public as much action as possible. Our greatest appeal to the public is the speed with which a professional game moves,” said NFL President Joe F. Carr to the press in early 1933.

That off-season the NFL adopted several new rule changes to help encourage scoring, such as allowing forward passing anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (unlike the old rule of having to be at least five yards back); they adopted hash marks for the first time; and the moved the field goal posts to the front of the end zone to encourage more field goal kicking.

Bert Bell’s Crusade Against the Extra Point
October 1953 Sport Magazine article by Bert Bell
In the October 1953 edition of Sport magazine NFL Commissioner Bert Bell sat down with Philadelphia Evening Bulletin sports editor Ed Pollock to talk about his distaste for the dreaded “Extra Point.” In an article titled “Let’s Throw Out the Extra Point” Bell gives his reasons why the pro game should dump the point after touchdown.

“For many years- even before the club owners of the National Football League saw fit to select me as commissioner- I have been in favor of throwing the extra point out of professional football and substituting a ‘sudden death’ extra period to break ties,” Bell said to Pollock. Then the former Eagles owner gave his seven reasons why he would eliminate the extra point.
  1. It has little spectator appeal.
  2. Kickers have become so proficient, it is virtually an automatic score.
  3. It is not nearly so much a team effort as it is the effort of three men- the center, the ball-holder and the kicker.
  4. It doesn’t prevent ties. The league has averaged two ties a season in the last seven years.
  5. It has little effect on the outcome of the game. None of our world’s championship games and only nine of the 462 conference games in the last seven seasons- that’s one in every 51- were won by the extra point.
  6. Contrary to general belief, there would be more field goals if the extra point were ruled out.
  7. It encourages gambling because it offers an easy way to figure a small and, therefore, an attractive point spread in many.
Bell then talks about how getting rid of the extra point would help the “sudden death” rule eliminate tie games in the NFL. That putting in “sudden death overtime” in the regular season you would see a drop in tie games.

“If the extra point is eliminated, the ‘sudden death’ rule should be applied to all our games and the value of a touchdown should be increased from six to seven points. In my opinion, a touchdown should not be offset in the scoring by two field goals,” said Bell.
October 1953 Sport Magazine article by Bert Bell
Bell saw "sudden death" in the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Colts and Giants. But the NFL didn't see overtime for regular season games until 1974.

In the end Bell didn’t mince words on his feeling for the old extra point. “The extra-point play, in my opinion, is a waste of time. “

Neither crusade ever came to fruition. But, the potential elimination of the extra point is not anything new to the NFL.

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