Is Smaller Target PAT Solution? Roger That

What to do with the extra point continues to be hot button in NFL circles. For this, we can blame Pete Gogolak, of course.

There was a time when placekickers stubbed their toes on the field like everyone else. In the early 1960s, the average one converted about half his field goal tries, the same rate that a quarterback completed a forward pass. They even missed an extra point once in a while. Then some guy from Budapest gave professional football a swift kick as its first soccer-style placekicker.

“My first year, I couldn’t get the ball in the air,” Gogolak told Sports Illustrated a few years back. “But I thought it was something I could do. Frankly, I’m amazed nobody else saw the potential.” Decades later, practically every kicker lines up off to the side nowadays. They’ve become so dang good at it that they almost never miss, it seems.

Well, commissioner Roger Goodell and his posse want to change that, and they seem intent to do it any way possible.

“The extra point is almost automatic,” Goodell drew a line in the grass earlier this year. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd (attempts). So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.”

Mr. Football is spot on here. Do you realize that you’re twice as likely to board a plane with a drunken pilot (odds: 1 in 117) than an NFL placekicker is to botch an extra point attempt (1 in 253 last season)? Consider the safety risks, and some critics say the h-e—double-uprights with it, the PAT simply isn’t worth it any more.

Before that happens, the rules committee wants move the ball from the 2-yard line to the 25-yard line on an experimental basis. That would make for a 43-yard kick rather than a 20-yard chip shot, in which case they should also change the name from extra point to one-point field goal.

“I don’t understand the logic – will it make the game safer for people by moving the extra point back to a 43-yarder?” Adam Vinatieri told USA Today the other day. “If anything, players are going to rush harder because they’re thinking, ‘That far of a field goal-type try, we have to go after blocking it more.’

“If you want to talk about potential risk, more guys get injured on a field goal than extra point. It definitely will change the game. For the better? I’m not sure.”

While I understand their intent, I wonder if the powers that be haven’t misidentified the problem. Is it really the spot of the ball? Or is it the size of the target itself?

A major oversight in most team sports is that, while the participants have become bigger, stronger and faster over the years, the field dimensions have remained largely the same. As it concerns football, no piece of the game has been ignored more than the goalpost even if it is one of the most important of all. The uprights have been 18 feet, six inches apart since the league opened for business nearly 100 years ago. Except for further extension of the uprights, the goalpost hasn’t been touched Richard Nixon was president. The year was 1974, when the rules committee pushed it back from the goal line to the end line, a move designed to reduce field goal attempts and percentage as well as safety concerns.

A lot more than placekickers have changed since then. Legs are stronger now. Fundamentals are better. Blocked kicks are fewer in number. Even the guys who hike the ball have roster spots reserved for them. Uh, no, the Decatur Staleys did not have a designated long snapper back in the day.

Clearly, it’s time to think inside the box, not outside it. Reduce the gap between the uprights by four feet and raise the crossbar by two feet, for instance, and the target area shrinks by nearly 35 percent. If that’s not enough, then move the goalposts back a few more yards. After a review all the missed kicks in recent seasons – hey, it wouldn’t take long – the rules committee could better determine what adjustments needed to be made exactly.

A smaller target would address not one but two issues. Extra point attempts were designed to be just that – a PAT on the back for a touchdown well done – but they wouldn’t be six-inch putts any longer. And field goal tries would become more difficult, especially longer ones. (The three-point conversation rate was a hefty 86.5 percent last season.) In turn, offenses would be strongly encouraged to play for touchdowns, which adds to the excitement that Goodell and everyone else wants in the game. True, the role of the placekicker would be reduced further, but at least the extra point would still be a part of his game.

Wait – there’s an added bonus. Know those silly dunk attempts after touchdowns? Unless Blake Griffin makes a career change, the elevated crossbar would all but eliminate them. Safety, you know.

But to turn the PAT into RIP is wide to the left, if you ask me. Yet some no-good critics would rather throw up their hands in the air and say, “What’s the point?” The answer is, plenty. The play has been part of the pro game since Canton Bulldogs star Jim Thorpe dropped-kicked them between the uprights nine decades ago. Abolish the extra point, and you may as well do away with uncontested layups, four-pitch intentional walks and empty-net goals inside the blue line while you’re at it.

I mean, the game still is called football, correct?

As Arizona Cardinals superfoot Jay Feely told USA Today, “You don’t penalize a baseball closer for being great. You celebrate that. You should do the same thing with kickers. If you’re going to change the extra point rule, I’d rather see you change it and still have it as part of the game than eliminate it.”

The man nailed another one. To exclude someone because he’s too good isn’t the American way. Better to find a way to make the extra point relevant again. It can be done, and it won’t take a drastic rule change to do it. As a person once said, frankly, I’m amazed that so few see its potential.

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