Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Was the PAT really that bad?

Yesterday, the NFL announced that the Point-After Try (PAT, extra point) was changing. Until now, teams would get the ball at the 2-yard line after a touchdown, and could decide if they wanted to try to kick it through the goal posts for an extra point, or try to push the ball into the end zone for 2 points (the two-point conversion was introduced to the NFL in 1994). About 99% of PATs were converted, meaning that the vast majority of touchdowns led to a team scoring 7 points. That's one point more than two field goals. Great.

Over the past few years, there has been an outcry about the extra point. IT'S TOO EASY! IT'S NOT EXCITING! WE MUST BE ENTERTAINED! Roger Goodell got on board with the idea of changing the extra point. It's a vestige of old football, where kickers couldn't kick. It's downright PROBLEMATIC. And now, the extra point is going to be snapped from 15 yards away instead of 2, while two-point conversions are still going to be from the two-yard line.

Ironic nerdy blog nerds are celebrating this new rule as a huge win for the NFL, finally disposing of the gimme extra point. But really, what was so bad about this? And why was this change really needed?

First of all, let's look at what is likely to happen, at least at the beginning of this new rule adoption. Extra points had about a 99% conversion rate before, and now these extra points -- equivalent to 32- or 33-yard field goals -- are predicted to have about a 96% conversion rate. So before, if your team missed an extra point, you'd be really pissed. It almost never happened. Now, if your team misses an extra point, you'll be really pissed. It'll almost never happen. It'll happen presumably 4 times as much league-wide, so for your team, that means it'll happen like twice instead of 0 times. NOW IT REALLY MEANS SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!

There are people who say that, mathematically speaking, it'll make more sense to go for 2-point conversions basically every time as opposed to PATs basically every time. It does make some sense: two-point conversions have just under a 50% conversion rate generally, so if you're getting 2 points 49% of the time instead of 1 point 96% of the time, you come out ahead.

But in reality, no one will actually be doing 2-point conversions every time, because you're gonna take the surefire way to get 1 point more than 2 field goals as opposed to just stockpiling as many points as possible. In football, aside from weird stuff like safeties, there are 2 ways to score: field goals (worth 3 points) and touchdowns (basically worth 7 points). 2 field goals is less than 1 touchdown with the extra point. That's going to play much more into your calculations than trying to just get as many points as possible. There's a lot more strategy to scoring in football than in other sports, and the point of the game is to score more points than the other team, not score as many points as possible (though those seem like the same thing). You're not going to risk being within 2 field goals of the other team if you have basically a 96% chance of being just a bit more than 2 field goals away. And that's not a stupid way of thinking, as many advanced stat-minded people (as I normally consider myself) would tell you. Also, John Urschel, the smartest player in the NFL, makes a great mathematical argument against the notion that teams will just pound 2-point conversions now.

So with all this in mind, knowing that teams will still go for 1 almost every time, this puts more power in the hands (or foot LOL) of kickers, which is literally never a good thing. That doesn't make the game more exciting -- it makes it more frustrating. At some point this year, a team will march down the field down by 7 with time running out, score a touchdown, and the kicker will miss the extra point. Is that better? Is that really what we want? Is that more exciting? I won't come away from that game thinking that the team that played better definitely won. I'll come away thinking that a fluky thing like missing an extra point screwed over a team that played well enough to tie. The fact that those flukes are going to happen slightly more often makes things worse, not better.

Also, were we really suffering having to watch (or not watch) extra points before? Was it such a disaster to sit there and watch replays of the sweet touchdown that just happened before the network cut back to the extra point the moment it went through the uprights? Now we're going to have to watch the whole process of extra points because it'll be a curiosity, and they'll still go through basically every time. It'll make the whole thing more boring, if it has any effect at all.

So what would have been my plan to fix the PAT? How about not fixing it? Just don't put your most important players in to block, and then me and the PAT were chill.

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