For over a week now, sports fans have been aware that the NFL Competition Committee may consider removing the point after touchdown (PAT) from professional football games. So says Marc Sessler at NFL.com, kickers have had a 99.1 percent success rate when attempting PATs since the 2004 season. This makes such points as close to a gimme as one may find in sports, and that is likely why the NFL is considering removing them from the game.
A New Scoring System
Of course, banishment of the PAT necessitates that league officials rework the scoring system because it will no longer work properly as it currently stands. On a recent airing of NFL Total Access, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid out the plan: “It’s automatic that you get seven points when you score a touchdown,” he said about a possible new system, “but you could potentially go for an eighth point, either by running or passing the ball, so if you fail, you go back to six.” So, touchdowns would include the gimme unless teams chose to risk more on a two-point conversion. This system is not set in stone, just yet. The league is supposedly still discussing the issue, and discussion is taking place inside newsrooms as well.
Peter King at Sports Illustrated provides an alternative to what Goodell spoke about on Total Access. Instead of eliminating the PAT entirely, King says, make it more difficult. He speaks about a three-step system that would save the fate of the extra point — providing kickers with a test of skill rather than sending them to the sidelines. First, King says he wants a touchdown to automatically gain the scoring team six points. Then, the scoring team would choose between a PAT or a two-point conversion like it currently does under the current rules; however, the PAT would be moved farther back from the goal post. Kickers presently kick extra points from the two-yard line. King wants to move that back to a yard-line determined by the average spot of a missed field goal from the previous year. “Say the average spot of a missed field goal in 2013 is from 44 yards out,” he says. “In 2014, then, the spot for the extra point would be the 27-yard line, necessitating a 44-yard kick to convert the extra point.” In his system, kickers would still attempt two-point conversions from the two-yard line.
So, the difficulty of making a kick and going for two points would be similar. King wants to see more exciting plays, and equalizing the difficulty of either extra-points try could make teams want to go for two. Coaches would have a more involved decision to make at the end of every touchdown. They would need to weigh the skill of their kickers and the point-value of their possible success versus the skill of their entire two-point squads and the point-value of their possible success. Neither try is automatic.
The Psychology of the Matter
Aaron Gordon at Sports on Earth discusses the concept of loss aversion as it relates to Goodell’s description of the possible upcoming NFL rule change. Simply put, loss aversion is the psychological principle that says people prefer keeping what they already own rather than trading it for something new. With respect to the change in PAT rules, loss aversion means that coaches will prefer keeping the automatic extra point — because touchdowns will now be worth seven — rather than trading it for a possible two points. The vexing part of this psychological principle is that the math in the old NFL rules will work the same way as in the possible new NFL rules. The only meaningful change, when considering loss aversion, is that the extra point is automatic, and that is a big deal.
Currently, coaches must decide between achieving one or two extra points. After the change, they must decide between losing something and gaining something, and that is an entirely different ball game. Loss aversion asserts that coaches will subconsiously feel more pressure to keep the single point they already have, and this puts the two-point conversion in even more danger than it already is. Although Gordon points out that teams succeed in converting for two-points more than 50 percent of the time, any astute fan can point out that coaches still opt for the kick.
For fans such as King who are looking for a more exciting game, Goodell’s summary of the new proposal could leave them distressed. As Gordon succinctly points out, “It was always going to be an uphill battle to convince coaches of this fairly basic calculation, but it will be even tougher if it means they have to take a point off the board.”
Image courtesy of Lance Cpl. Edward L. Mennenga, USMC via Wikimedia Commons