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When was the extra point added to football?

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09/14/2011

To put the FOOT back into FOOTball

  • A Well Researched and Very Thouough Answer by from Rob Good Football

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History and Future of the Point(s) After Touchdown

Why in USAmerican, Canadian, and rugby football, is there a usually anticlimactic event, called variously the "try", "try- for-point(s)", "point(s) after touchdown" ("PAT" or simply "point after"), "try-kick", "extra point(s)" (or simply "the point"), "conversion", "convert", or "kick at goal after try"--a minor score which seems designed to invite fluke results--stuck onto the major scoring plays of the game?

In early rugby, only goals were scored. When the ball depart- ed the rectangular field, either via a side boundary or a goal line (the line in which a goal stood), it remained in play, but only to the extent needed determine which team would put the ball back into normal play; that task belonged to whomever first touched the ball to the ground. The area outside the bounds therefore came to be called "touch". That term is still used today in rugby for the area outside the side lines, and in the NFL (National [US] Football League) for the end zones (beyond each goal line). Suppose a player of the team attacking a goal legally touched the ball down beyond that goal line. The means by which their side got to put the ball back in play was the "punt out". The player punting out would have to punt the ball from a spot beyond that goal line, no farther from the nearest side line than where the ball was touched down, and closer to that side line than the nearest goal post, back out into the field-of-play. Defending players waiting for play to thus restart could stand behind their goal line, but allowing a little space, closer to the nearest side line, for this kick to emerge. Attackers could wait in the field of play. The ball was in play as soon as punted. It had to cross the goal line, and then was treated like any kick, with one exception: a teammate of the punter-out could make a fair catch of it. (Australian Rules and speedball are the only games I know of wherein nowadays you can be awarded a fair catch from your own side's kick.) If a fair catch was made from a punt-out (or a punt-on�-see below), the catcher had the option of a free kick, usually aimed at goal, or a punt-on. A punt-on was just like a punt-out, with the mark of the catch and the line of the catch leading to a punt-on treated analogously to the spot of the touching down and the goal line for a punt-out.

It behooved the team punting-out to try to get a fair catch, but there was one other consideration: whether to simultaneously attempt to improve the position (wider angle, shorter distance) of the ensuing shot at goal. If the ball had been touched down far out to either side, the punt-out could be angled infield to try to get closer to the goal. However, this would increase the hang time of the punt, allowing the defense more time to charge out and interfere; kicking the ball lower would decrease hang time, but might make a fair catch harder. If the catch were missed, the ball would remain in play, and probably not afford the attacking side as good a chance as from a fair catch. The less ambitious play (a no-brainer in case the ball was touched down near or between the posts) was a sort of "technical" or "cheapie" punt-out. The punter-out would come up to the goal line, and just dub it across to a teammate waiting right there. The catcher would be immediately mauled by the defenders, but not soon enough to prevent a fair catch. The ball would then be taken back from this mark as far as desired for a kick at goal. This kick, though called a try for goal (or simply "try"), was in play like any other. An angled kick from far out at the side, assuming it missed, would often afford the attacking side a good chance to touch the ball down beyond the goal line closer than the original touch-down had been made. Given the relatively short distance straight ahead the attacking team had to travel under such circumstances, it was often a 50-50 ball. This possibility was an additional inducement to use the cheap type of punt-out described in the paragraph above. Eventually the triviality of the "tap" punt-out gave way to the side awarded it being given the choice of either taking a "real" punt-out to improve position as described earlier, or simply taking the ball straight back from the spot of the touch- down for a try at goal as if the cheapie punt-out and fair catch had been completed. Later they were allowed to bring it straight back from between the goal posts if touched down there, instead of having to take it outside the nearest post. In no sense was the try for an "extra" point; it was the ONLY point--equal to a goal from the field under other circumstances. However, due to the low scoring nature of the game, another statistic was sought to break ties. The method was adopted of breaking ties by counting the tries that weren't converted to goals. But I wonder how the counting was made when a missed try led to another, as described above?

Such was the state of in rugby at the time American football adopted its rules. Then the first change which was to create the "point after" as a play distinct from the rest of the game was made: in American football, a try for goal that missed would not stay in play, but be treated as if touched down by the defending side. The try for goal would be directly for goal only, and could not lead to another try. The same change was later made, apparently independently, in rugby. A relic of these rules survived until very recently in RU (Rugby Union) football, in that the kickoff after a missed try kick was a drop kick instead of a place kick, echoing the drop- out that would have occurred had the defending side touched a live kick down in goal. Later rugby eliminated the option of a punt-out; it was gone by the time Canadian football became a distinctive game. The punt-out survived longest in USAmerican football, although the following change was soon made: if a punt-out did not result in a fair catch, the ball was dead and play proceeded as for a missed try. This change was sufficient to establish the point(s) after touchdown as a little game unto itself, which had to end before the game restarted. Eventually in American football the game clock was stopped during the try; only very recently was this same change--time out during the convert�adopted in Canadian football--and then only in the last 3 minutes of a half or over- time in the CFL (Canadian Football League).

American football, like rugby, already used the expedient of breaking ties by counting unconverted tries when it was decided to discourage teams from conceding a safety (now "safety touch" in Canadian football, "touch down" in rugby; originally "safety touch down") by incorporating these into the tie-breaking system. Later, rather than a simple priority system of determining the winner (count goals, then if tied count missed tries, if still tied count safeties against), a combination ordinal-cardinal system was adopted, which I won't try to reproduce here; however, for the first time in American football, it was possible for a number of unconverted tries to beat a goal. While this system MIGHT have been unambiguous, it seems cumbersome. If it was hard to tell even AFTER the game who'd won, imagine the difficulty of making tactical decisions near the end of a close game. This system of determination was quickly replaced by a point value scoring system; rugby made this change, too, though not under the pressure of such a problem as described above in American football. In rugby a goal would score 3 points, and an unconverted try, 1 point. Looked at another way, a try was worth 1 point; a goal from a try (conversion), 2; and a goal from the field, 3. Eventually rugby's terminology changed so that the act of scoring by touching the ball down beyond the opposing goal line, for which a try kick was awarded, came to be called itself a "try", while the kick so awarded came to be called "kick at goal AFTER try"; probably the same British language logic by which the redundancy "in in-goal" came about--go figure. In American football the scoring was: touchdown (touching the ball down beyond the opposing goal line), 2 points; safety, 1; goal from a try, 4; goal otherwise ("from the field"--"field goal"), 5. Note that in both rugby and American football, a successful conversion itself counted for twice what the try or touchdown scored, at first. However, a touchdown, if the try was converted, slightly outscored the American field goal, while in rugby the scores were only equal. Note also that because Ameri- can football kept the punt-out option for considerably longer, it was possible to score a safety during the conversion process�- probably as a result of a team killing time by moving backward with a series of punt-ons (punts-on?).

I won't detail the series of steps by which, as the kicking game was relatively devalued, the relative scores changed. The process went on in USAmerican football fastest, Canadian football next fastest, and slowest in rugby--a bit faster in RL (Rugby League) than in RU. I think it fairly safe to say that this process has plateaud in USAmerican and Canadian ball (TD 6, FG 3, try-KICK 1), but is still evidently not settled in rugby, where just in recent decades the try was increased from 3 to 4, then 4 to 5 points, while the conversion remains at 2 and other goals (in RU) 3; RL has a 2 point goal from a penalty kick and 1 point from a drop-kicked field goal. (For completeness I mention the permanent addition of the rouge as a single point in Canadian football, and the temporary installation of the equivalent "force down" score in New Zealand rugby. The 2 point conversion is discussed below.) The gain in value of touchdowns (or in rugby, tries) versus goals can be seen as a continuation of the process that differen- tiated rugby from soccer: the former incorporated more ball handling, while the latter eliminated most handling. But in this process, the conversion kick "suffered" the worst. A try kick is worth only 1/3 a field goal in the major North American versions of football, 2/3 in RU. Only in RL is a try kick 1:1 to a penalty goal and 2:1 to a drop goal.

Converting a try in rugby, described above, has been done the same way since the punt-out was eliminated and the spot inside the posts allowed. The kicker takes the ball back as far as desired from the goal line. The major consideration is widening of the angle to target. Outside the width of the goal, the line of maximal width, wind conditions aside, is an equilateral hyperbola thru the posts; this may be adjusted for inswing tendencies of soccer-style kickers. Very close to the goal, of course, the need to chip the ball upwards over the bar needs to be taken into account, while near the sidelines the distance can be a consideration. A place or drop kick can be used. That's it for RL. In RU an additional consideration, held over from a procedure used for other free kicks, is that the defending side, otherwise constrained to stand behind their goal line, can rush in when the kicker starts his/her approach. In contrast, USAmerican and Canadian football, even after eliminating the punt-out, have changed particulars of the conver- sion play several times and in several ways. The major variables have been the spot from which the ball is played, the type of kick or other play allowed, and what types of scores are counted. The first change made in both Canada and the USA was to disconnect the spot of the conversion play from the position in which the touchdown was scored. Whether the touchdown was recorded in the middle or the corner, the team awarded the try could take it from the center; but exactly how? In Canada, a new challenge was introduced: the convert had to be by a drop kick, and from 35 yards out--later reduced to 25. In USAmerican football, the conversion became a scrimmage play, like any other except that only a goal could be scored, and that play would end if a kick failed to score a goal or if the defenders got the ball. The attacking side could snap the ball from anywhere within the field of play�normally just outside the center of the goal line. Later other scores--a touchdown or (extremely rare) a safety against the defending team�-were allowed as the conversion, counting the same 1 point as a goal. This change necessitated specifying at least a minimum distance for the spot of the conversion play: the 2 yard line. Canadian football eventually adopted the scrimmage convert play, too, fixing the spot for a time from the 10 yard line, and allowing a place kick or drop; these too had become 1 point scores.

It's hard to separate the history of the conversion from that of the field goal, so I'll discuss the change in the target. American football moved the goal from the goal line to the end line, 10 yards removed. A reason cited for this change was to remove a hazardous obstacle to the players, but surely the effect of making the goal a more difficult score was considered in this change. The NFL later moved the goals forward to the goal lines again to encourage this score or its threat, only to move it back again to the end line to discourage field goals or make them more of a challenge. During the time the goals were on the goal lines in the NFL, it was common practice to scrimmage the ball from on or near the 3 yard line for the conversion, a yard farther away than the rules required. That was to gain precision for the spot of the place kick, taking a snap of 7 yards back to put it exactly on the 10 yard chalk stripe. When the goals were put back 10 yards, teams reclaimed that yard during the try. The NCAA (Nat'l [US] Collegiate Athletic Admin.), followed by the NF (Nat'l [US] Feder'n [of State High School (Athletic) Admins.]), widened the goals from 18'6" to 23'4". The story goes that 24' was desired, but rejected in favor of a structure easily constructed using the longest easily available 2" X 4" lumber: a 24' beam, which had to overlap the upright post it was nailed to on each end. NCAA later reduced the goals to their original 18'6" width. One variant of USAmerican football slightly bucked the trend of devaluing goals versus touchdowns--the 6-a-side game known as six man football invented by Epler and played mostly at small high schools. In recognition of the underdevelopment of kicking skills at that level of competition, and of the relative ease of blocking place or drop kicks from scrimmage (because of the less cluttered path defenders have to the ball when there are fewer players on the field), the field goal was valued at 4 points during regular play and 2 points during a conversion. (6 points were still given for a touchdown and 2 for a safety during regular play, but only 1 point apiece during a conversion.) Besides, the goal was made 25' wide and the crossbar 9' instead of 10' off the ground. I don't know about the scoring in 8- and 9-a-side versions of football played at some high schools. Pop Warner football, played by juveniles, allowed local leagues the option to adopt the 6-man scoring scheme for conversions: 2 for a field goal, 1 for a touchdown or safety; the default was 1 point for either.

The widening of the goal by the NCAA might have been partly in compensation for a change made the year before: introduction of the 2 point conversion as an option for the team awarded the try. A touchdown would count 2 points during a conversion instead of 1. This change extended to the try-for-point(s) the ratio of scoring of touchdowns to field goals--6:3 during general play, 2:1 during the conversion. But apparently it was thought that 2 points woulb be too much for a 2 yard gain, so the spot for the play was moved from the 2- to the 3-yard line. NF fairly quickly adopted the same changes, although many other interscholastic football rules-making bodies were slow to adopt the 2 point chance. The AFL ([US]American Football League) allowed the 2 point conversion from its start, but kept the 2 yard line as the spot for the play. A number of minor professional, semi-pro, and amateur football leagues allowed the converting team to score the 2 points for the touchdown if they snapped the ball from at least the 3 yard line, but still allowed the PAT scrimmage from the 2 yard line if the team so chose. Would you believe that to gain that extra yard for the kick, teams I saw sacrificed the threat of the 2 point conversion? (Perhaps an unspoken rule was that a kick would not be allowed if the ball was snapped from the 3. No fake field goals during the try?) The CFL and CAFA (Canadian Amateur Football Ass'n) were next to adopt the 2 point convert as an option for the converting team. However, rather than following the NCAA's lead of moving the spot away from the goal line to compensate, the Canadians moved the scrimmage closer--from the 10- to the 5-yard line. The NFL was the last to adopt the 2 point conversion. After a hiatus following the merger with the AFL, the latter's 2 point conversion from the 2 yard line eventually re-emerged.

Some versions of North American football pursued this trend farther, devaluing the goal during the conversion to 0 points. During 2 consecutive years of AFL-NFL exhibition play, an experi- ment was made of allowing only a touchdown (or a safety, I guess) to score during a conversion--1 point as per the NFL, not the AFL's 2. Because an unconverted touchdown was kept as a 6 point score, this was actually a devaluation of the touchdown during general play. Later the World Football League (WFL) adopted the "action point" as its conversion. The score for an unconverted touchdown was increased to 7, and a touchdown during the conversion, snapped from the 2.5-yard "action line" (How much Madison Avenue can you stand?), added 1. (A goal during the conversion was worthless.) This represented an increase in the relative value of the touchdown in general play. There are USAmerican and Canadian versions of touch football without goals, and in some of them a point after touchdown (via a touchdown) is used. In some versions of touch rugby, where goals don't count, a try counts more if scored near the center than it does near a side (touch) line; this simulates the greater ease of a kick at goal after a try near the posts.

Arena football draws on various North American and rugby forebears. For a conversion, Arena football awards 2 points for a touchdown, I guess 1 point for a safety, 1 point for a goal by place kick, and 2 points for a goal by drop kick. (In general play Arena ball gives 4 for a drop and 3 for a place kicked field goal, just as for a time RU gave 4 for a drop goal during general play and only 3 for a penalty kick goal, usually from placement.)

Recently the NCAA broke the long-established principle that team B (the team defending at the start of the play) could not score during the try which had been awarded against it. Restoring a bit of the "live ball" condition from the origins of the try, they allowed once again a touchdown or safety (2 points or 1, respectively) to be scored during the conversion by the team against whom the try was awarded. Because the NCAA had made a return kick illegal some time back, team B cannot score a field goal. The CFL, where ordinarily a return kick can still score a goal, also adopted team B scoring during the convert, but allows them only the 2-point possibility.

Thus has the circle nearly been closed, and the history of the point(s) after touchdown completed. How is the conversion practiced today, and what effect does it have on football? Well of course it increases the expected average score from a touch- down (or try in rugby), but what else? RU's 2 points for a try kick conversion make a converted try (total 7 points) better than the 6 points from a pair of goals otherwise obtained (penalty or drop), which are in turn better than the 5 for an unconverted try. In RL the try kick is equal in value to a penalty kick in points for success: 2. Charging down (blocking--or "saving", if I may borrow a term from games where a goal keeper exists) a try kick is a rarity in RU and illegal in RL. Besides the kicker's accuracy, the main determinant of the chance of success in converting a try is the position where it was awarded. Thus, a try between the goal posts (given for touching it down there or as a penalty try) is more valuable than one scored in a corner. Rugby thusly preserves the principle that the goal, the center of the goal line, is to be attacked and defended as a separate object along with the goal line. Action often continues when a player carrying the ball in his/her opponent's in-goal (the area beyond the goal line; called "end zone" in USAmerican and Canadi- an amateur football, "goal area" in the CFL), although able to touch the ball down immediately, tries to work toward the middle first, to touch down in better position, while defenders try to prevent such. A try between the posts often follows a more severe defensive breakdown than would a try away from the posts, because the nature of rugby, including the fact that the ball goes to one's opponents when one puts it over a touch (side) line, makes defenses exert pressure from the center toward the sides of the field. Such a try often occurs regardless of the attackers' performance. The position of the try is more of a penalty to the team giving it up than a reward to the team producing it. It can sometimes result from a risky play gone bad, as when a pass is intercepted. It's frequently opined that a try in the corner usually takes more creativity, skill, and teamwork, as from a passing movement that just barely beats the defenders, than does a try near the posts. That's one reason that was given for increasing the value of an unconverted try from 3 to 4 points, and presumably was also used to justify the raise from 4 to 5--a relative decrease in the value of the conversion.

Another feature of the kick at goal after try is that it slows the game considerably. All the players except the kicker are doing essentially nothing, and can take something of a breather. However, a breakaway try by a lone player produces something of a "suckers walk" effect: his/her teammates can stay in their half of the field, while all players of the team scored on have to go behind their own goal line, only to come out to mid field again for the kickoff. The time consumed counts toward full time of the game, to the extent the referee allows. The time it takes, even by a side rushing things along, can be such that near the end of a game, a team behind by a few points with a difficult angle for the kick may be best off to decline it, and save the time. You can be sure that the team with the lead will be in no hurry to chase down the missed try kick and return it to play.

Differences in skill and leg strength change the chance of converting a try kick a lot, depending on level of competition. Teams at the world's top level are assured of near certainty for all but the most difficult angles; for them a try is as good as 7 points. Farther down the scale it gets much iffier. Therefore the position of a try may be relatively unimportant or important.

In North American football at high levels of competition the single point after touchdown is also a very sure thing. In the NFL when the goals were on the goal line, it'd become a ridicu- lously sure thing. I do remember one year that the New York Giants blocked several; they'd probably figured a way to cheat and get away with it for a while. The choice of 2 points was introduced largely to make the conversion play interesting again. It looks like they're going to kick, but maybe they'll run or pass�you never know. Of course, the threat of the 2 points makes it a little easier to convert for 1; the defense has to play the fake as well as the ostensible kick. That was one reason the NFL took so long to add the 2 point conversion: having made 1 point after a bit harder, by moving the goals once again to the end line, they didn't want to make it a surer thing again. In the NCAA, the 2 point conversion, probably as intended, has often been used as a gamble to win, rather than to tie a game. But in the AFL the 2 point conversion was used much more often to make a tie than to break one: 2 FG + TD + 2-pt. conversion = 14 points = 2 TD + 2 1-pt. conversions. The NFL put in the 2 point conversion only after regular season overtime tie-breaking had been installed, and it appears that most teams therein would rather produce a tie (sometimes by a late 2 point conversion) and play overtime than to try for 2 to win in regulation time. The 2 point conversion for a run or pass (not the 6-man and optional Pop Warner scoring explained before) at lower levels of competition, namely many teams playing under NF rules, had an altogether different effect. The percentages of successful PATs by kicking are often much less there. Many high schools would never even attempt a kick from scrimmage other than a punt. The introduction of the 2 point conversion gave them even less reason to try to develop goal kicking skills; instead they'd always go for 2 points. Some, for whom the percentage of a kick might be slightly greater than a run or pass, might only go for 1 point if it'd put them ahead with little time left; otherwise the antici- pated payoff for the 2 point try would always be greater. The other effect of the 2 point option�making it a little riskier for the defense to go all-out to block the kick�may have less effect in such junior competition, where there are more outright misses than blocked kicks. On the other hand, this effect may be greater because of the more deliberate style used for place kicks from scrimmage by the inexperienced: the ball is teed up before the kicker starts the approach, giving rushers more time to block the kick.

Because of the lack of players skilled at drop kicking, in Arena football running or passing has been used more often than drop kicking over the 15' high 9' wide crossbar to attempt a 2 point conversion. The place kick for 1 point is pretty sure.

Not satisfied with the 2 point option, the NCAA decided to put more excitement into the try by allowing the other team to score. Near the end of a game played under this provision, a team which is in the lead may be better off to decline the try (or snap it and immediately kill the ball) than to suffer even the minute risk of a turnover or blocked kick and opposing 2 point score. For instance, on a play on which time expires for the game, a team scores a touchdown to go ahead by 1 point without convert- ing--a no-brainer. But if there's instead a little time left, one's judgment of the percentages might advise either leaving well enough alone or going for 2 points to get ahead by 3 points. After the punt-out had been abolished but before the NCAA revived 2-way live ball conversions this way, how was it possible for a safety to be scored against the defending team, when the ball was dead as soon as they came into possession? Depending on the exact rules being played at the time and in the circuit in question (which details I won't go into, but they have to do with "responsibility" for putting the ball into the end zone), it was sometimes theoretically possible for the defense to add impetus to a loose ball in the field-of-play, and recover it in their own end zone; under such circumstances, they weren't even allowed to run it out into the field-of-play to avoid the score. However, if the new impetus was imparted by illegally batting the ball�the only way under some rules--the attacking team would have the option of a penalty to continue the try. Since they'd almost certainly, under the circumstances producing such a freak play, have wanted 2 points, the illegal bat (say of a fumbled ball which had come to rest) may have been a worthwhile intentional foul. That being the case, it may be ruled a[n] [palpably] unfair act for which a penalty 2 point score would be awarded.

What does the future hold? That depends on the opinions of the players, administrators, patrons/entrepreneurs, and fans of the games of which I write.

The try/try-for-point(s)/point(s) after touchdown/PAT/ point after/try-kick/extra point(s)/conversion/convert/kick at goal after try/point is a tenacious token remnant of an old play procedure. At a fraction of its original importance, it hangs on very hard. It's consistently anticlimactic. Can you think of any other game--I don't care whether you play it on a field, with cards, with dice, or what--in which score is kept in one unit of ac- count, where a major score like a touchdown (or try in rugby) comes with an opportunity to add a minor score like a conversion afterward? Adding to the anticlimax in football is the fact that at high levels of competition the conversion kick has an extreme- ly high success rate. The high success rate of the PAT tends to produce fluke results--games in which a game is decided or tied merely because someone missed an easy kick. That sure doesn't satisfy my esthetics. Yes, sometimes such a kick is blocked, suggesting a reward for especially good defense. In RU a charged down kick at goal after try occurs, not a result of extra defensive perfor- mance, but rather almost always a low kick, slow approach, and poor judgment by the kicker. In North American football the blocked kick is also often the result of bad execution. North American football's adoption of the 2 point conversion, and the more recent adoption of 2 way conversion scoring (both teams) are clearly the results of efforts to jazz up what's been long perceived as an unsatisfying part of the game. It's a tribute to the conversion's tenaciousness that, rather than being seen as an appendage which could be chopped off, it's been viewed as an ailing vital organ which needs help and more exercise. How else to explain such a phenomenon as the WFL's "action point"? But do the 2 point option and 2 way scoring satisfy esthetic- ally? They seem logical. If a touchdown counts twice as much as a goal during regular play, why not during conversion? If team B can score during regular play, why not during a conversion? 2 way scoring during the conversion, though it holds some interest (as practically any game procedure would), and was an idea I'd had independently, seems goofy. Long gone is the sense that the ball is being put back into play for both teams; long established is the expectation that the conversion be a bonus for the team which scores a touchdown. The only reason North Ameri- can football lends itself to this innovation is that the game is played in brief, discrete plays dominated by a single ballcarrier or two. It doesn't slow the game down much if we let the player who recovers a loose ball try to run to the opposite end of the field for (a mere) 2 points. 1 and 2 point options aren't goofy, but highlight the ques- tion: Why have a 1-play micro-game within the game, scores reduced by 2/3, instead of getting on with the game? Rugby has preserved slightly more connection between the conversion and the rest of the game, in that the spot of the try kick is determined by where the try was scored. For reasons explained in the last post, it's been thought by many that the rewards and incentives for a good spot are esthetically perverse. In RU, because a try is often scored by a passing movement some distance laterally from a set piece--a scrum, ruck, maul, line- out, or penalty or free kick--even maneuvering the ball toward the center, from which second phase ball could give a wide angle for a drop goal, if the attackers move for a try instead, it's likely to give a bad angle for the conversion. A passing move- ment from a lineout, where the ball is thrown in from the side, is paradoxically more likely to produce a try between or near the goal posts.

Why not just eliminate this "extra" score opportunity in rugby and North American football, and add its expected value to the score of a touchdown or try? One problem is to figure that "expected value". The percentages are near unity in, say, the NFL. But what about Pop Warner, or high school j.v., or low level women's rugby, where the chances average much less? If the touchdown or try is raised to 7 points (or 6 if they still score 4 + 2 in RL), that has little effect on top level play, but changes the score significantly at lower levels. Where goals are rarely attempted, let alone kicked successful- ly, as in some very junior play in North American football, almost the only conversion attempts are by run or pass. Taking away the try means that the few teams that develop kicking games have those opportunities to show their superiority reduced; they may still get a field goal opportunity here or there, but proba- bly consider it more of a gamble than worthwhile often. Taking away the try also means the teams which are better at scoring on 3 yard runs or passes lose many of those opportunities. Since field goals are so rare at this level, the only scores would be touchdowns and safeties, so the only consideration is what the ratio of the scores of these should be: 3:1 or 7:2. However, since 3 safeties in a single game are such a rare event, does it matter? I say let each circuit determine its own answer to the score adjustment problem, and get rid of the try-for-point(s).

You don't want to get rid of it? Then I'll suggest ways to increase the variety and suspense of this hanger-on. Let's say a try kick scores only if made by the player who made the touchdown. (That's like the way in RU the maker of a fair catch has to make the free kick.) I wouldn't suggest the same restriction on the 2 point run/pass conversion, which however one might want to eliminate with this innovation. Let's re-connect the spot of the touchdown in North American football to the spot of the try. However, if we follow the convention of moving the ball in to the inbounds lines (hash marks), that change won't have much effect on the NFL, where they're so close together. Let's make it that if, due to a penalty by the defense during the try (before or during actual play), the offense gets to snap the ball from a spot closer than normal, they get the option of 1 automatic point instead of having the try. (Similarly in RU, if the defense charges too early, count the kick as good.) If they turn that down, and due to another penalty the spot would be even closer, give them 2 points and be done with it. Let's speed up rugby by not taking the try kicks until the end of the game. Plant colored flags at the closest point on the dead ball line to where tries were scored, for reference in this game-end resolution. RL might go for this. Can you propose a long-shot 3 point conversion option? Like a touchdown pass over the crossbar in Canadian football? Spinning around 3 times and kicking blindfolded?

Robert Goodman 1402 ASTOR AVE BRONX NY 10469 robgood@bestweb.net

Answer

It has always been a part of football!

To get to its origins, we have to go back to rugby. When a player scores the equivalent of a touchdown in rugby, he must press the ball down to the ground in the end zone -- which, incidentally, is where the term "touchdown" comes from. Initially, this action counted for no points in itself. Instead, it gave the player's team the right to take a kick at the goalposts from a point directly out on the field from where the ball was touched down. This action in rugby was originally called a "try for goal," and the term lives on in what rugby today calls its version of a touchdown -- a "try."

Football borrowed this convention from rugby. In early football, as in early rugby, the touchdown itself didn't award any points. The whole purpose of scoring the try/touchdown was to give your team the opportunity to take a shot at the goalposts.

In 1883, when a numerical point system was introduced in football, a touchdown became worth four points, but the "extra point" was worth just as much. It wasn't reduced to a single point until 1897. Now it's almost considered an afterthought, even though it was originally the whole point of scoring a touchdown/try in the first place!

Incidentally, rugby rules still require the player's team to take the conversion kick from a point straight out on the field from where the ball was touched down. That makes for some difficult angles for kickers, and it's the primary reason why conversions in rugby still count for 2 points, while in American football they now count for just 1.