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It might be Friday night lights out on the extra point soon. (Graham Ballantyne)

The NFL Is Considering Axing the Extra Point After Touchdowns

Scoring these points is easy, and the NFL might just get rid of them

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In two weeks, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos will meet to battle for a large trophy (and give each other head injuries in the process). Superbowl XLVIII will feature the same goal posts as always—those big yellow beacons. But this might be the last Superbowl where those goals are used to score that one bonus point after a touchdown.

Football has always had field goals and extra points. In 1883, a field goal was worth five points, and the extra point conversion after a touchdown was actually an extra four points. In 1909, the rules changed to make a field goal three points. 

The original goal post in football was in the shape of an H stuck into the end zone. That lasted for almost 100 years, until the so called “slingshot” goal posts were invented by a man named Joel Rottman. Rottman told Harvey Failkov of the Sun Sentinal the origin story:

"I was having lunch eating a steak in the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal with then Alouettes coach Jim Trimble and Jack Rabinovich, who originated skateboards in Canada,'' said Rottman 78, a Connecticut native.

"They were talking skateboards, and I was mad I couldn't get a word in about the football team. I had a fork in my hand, turned to Jim, and said, 'Did you ever hear of a one-legged goal post?' He said, 'Are you crazy?' ''

By 1967, every single team had the yellow slingshot posts. The benefits of the Y design are numerous. It’s prettier looking and provides one less large metal pole for football players to crash into. In 1974, the uprights were raised to 30 feet, and the posts were pushed back to the end of the end zone both to prevent injury and to make it a little bit harder for kickers who were easily hitting their extra points. Since 1974, they’ve stayed right there. 

The thing is, since 1974, kickers have gotten much better. So good that kickers almost never miss an extra point. For almost ten years the accuracy of extra points has circled around 99 percent. Many teams haven’t missed an extra point in years. Have to go to the bathroom or grab a snack? Might as well go during the extra point attempt. It’s that boring and automatic. 

It’s not just extra points that are getting more boring either. Field goal kickers are getting better too. In 2011, there were 90 field goals made from fifty yards or longer. In 2012, there were 92. This year, Matt Prater from the Denver Broncos made the longest field goal ever, from 64 yards away.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick complained about the boredom of the extra point in a press conference, saying, “It’s virtually automatic. That’s just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute, and it was executed by players who were not specialists, they were position players. It was a lot harder for them to do. The Gino Cappellettis of the world and so forth, and they were very good. I don’t think that’s really a very exciting play because it’s so automatic.” 

It’s not just Belichick who’s bored of extra points either. For years now, sports writers have theorized about ways to make kicking more interesting. Some proposals include moving the extra point spot back from the two yard line and making the uprights narrower. But the NFL is now considering simply removing the extra point all together. Roger Goodell, the NFL Comissioner said:

“The extra point is almost automatic,” Goodell said. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd (1,256-for-1,261, to be precise). So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play. There’s one proposal in particular that I’ve heard about. It’s automatic that you get seven points when you score a touchdown, 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.”

That sounds a little more exciting—if you want extra points, you've got to take a little risk to get them. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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