The Strategery of Eliminating the Point after Touchdown

January 21st, 2014

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell floated a fascinating proposal–eliminate the point after touchdown. Why?

“The extra point is almost automatic,” Goodell told NFL Network. “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.”

Now the choice is go for a one-point automatic kick, or try for a difficult two-point touchdown conversion. The replacements could create some really interesting strategize decisions.

Goodell said one suggested proposal involved a touchdown being worth seven points instead of six, with the potential for an extra play from scrimmage that would yield an eighth point. However, “if you fail, you go back to six [points],” Goodell explained.

The commissioner did concede however there are still some roadblocks to any such change. Goodell posed the question, “Is that going to discourage people from going for two?”

So now there would be different choices. Do nothing after the touchdown, and keep your seven points. Attempt to get the ball in the end zone again. If you do, you get one extra point and go to eight. If you don’t, you lose a point, and are stuck with six. This would, in effect, replicate the possible point distributions we have now (6 points, 7 points, or 8 points). The point-after-touchdown is so automatic there may be no sense in actually requiring teams to do it. Just give it to them and let them kick off.

But the alternate incentives makes the risk of going for two more difficult. People are very risk adverse. The prospect of gaining one point at the risk of losing one point is probably too much for coaches to stomach. Think of how seldom they go for it on fourth down, even though statistics show they should most of the time. (See the interesting Fourth Down Bot). I suspect very few coaches would take advantage of the two-point conversion, unless (as usual) it is at the end of a game and they need those additional points to tie or win. Though you can imagine a case where 7 points would tie it, 8 points would win it, and 6 points would lose it. Can you imagine any NFL coach going for 2 here? The game could be tied, headed to overtime, but you decide to go for two and fail. Prospect theory would not save the coach.

I suspect tradition will maintain the status quo, but these changes would add some additional strategery to the outcome of games.