It would seem that this is the NFL offseason to consider interesting rule changes.
Right on the heels of the most recent news that the league is considering imposing a 15 yard penalty for the use of racial slurs during a game, the Competition Committee is now in preliminary talks about placing the ball at the 25 yard line as opposed to the two yard line for the extra point kick. Doing so would make the kick a 43 yard attempt, which is a significantly less makeable kick than a 20 yard one.
On one hand, the proposed rule change is a good one; extra points these days are basically automatic, with last year seeing a 99.6 success rate (just five out of 1,267 attempts missed or were blocked). A longer point after try would make things more interesting, require more strategy, and perhaps allow for more 2 point conversion attempts. In a lot of ways, the proposal makes sense.
On the other hand, I personally think that the Competition Committee's efforts should are better spent elsewhere. Perhaps they should be using this time to figure out why the most significant penalty - Defensive Pass Interference - is also the most subjective one. Or maybe they should be looking at ways to get things back to where defenders aren't forced to shatter kneecaps in order to make a play. The extra point very rarely costs teams games, players, and seasons, and I'd like to see them focus their efforts on regulating some of the more questionable calls currently on the books.
Again, these talks are extremely preliminary, so we aren't likely to see any substantive changes in the immediate future. But it's something to keep an eye on, and it would represent one of the more significant changes to the game we've seen in the past several years.
I'm jumping in to give my two cents as it's important to look at the numbers when evaluating this decision.
1) Over the past five seasons, kickers have converted 99.1% of extra points (XP), or an Expected Point Added (EPA) of 0.991.
2) Over the past five seasons, kickers have converted 76.3% of field goals from the 25 yard line. When widening the range to field goals to the 23-27 lines, for the sake of additional data points, you have a more likely target of 78.9%. If we're using this bench mark as the new placement for extra points, the proposed EPA of an XP will decrease to 0.789.
3) Over the past five seasons, there have been 283 two-point conversion attempts. They have succeeded 48.8% of the time, or an EPA of 0.975. You'll note how similar this value is to the extra point play. While going for the extra point is the easier call for coaches to make, coaches who ask for the two point conversion will, over time, can expect to score roughly the same amount of points.
4) So when breaking down the decision from a long term point of reference, it would seem that this discussion is for naught. Moving the XP line would reduce its value and actually make the two-point conversion the smarter play to attempt.
I don't believe that's what the committee wants to do. They don't want a play to have near 100% conversion rate, because that makes for boring football. Unless the committee wants to make the extra point the secondary of the plays (in other words, make teams primarily go for two after every touchdown), the committee should try and find some other means for reaching their goal.
There's merit in an "easier" play as going for two points instead of one point should be the riskier play. According to the numbers, moving the extra point line back to the 25 yard line makes the two point conversion the smarter play.
Of course, that's ignoring variables like "consistency", where you may want to take the single point after every score, instead of risking scoring multiple conversions one week, and no conversions the next week. That would certainly play into the coaches' heads when they make their decisions, even if the numbers would disagree with their decisions.
Do they want less week-to-week consistency? Do they want more scoring? Do they only want the extra point to be more difficult, without any fallout on two-point attempt decision making? The committee can talk about moving the extra point line, but until they decide what they want to result from this move, then we'll be unable to determine whether or not it makes any sense.
*In an unrelated note, it seems as if teams are throwing the ball too much on two point conversion. They pass 70.7% of the time, but succeed on 45% of them. Rushing the ball has yielded a 57.8% success rate. Now determining if that's a result of running being the smarter plays, or coaching playing the numbers and defending the likely-to-come pass, would require additional statistical research. But from first glace, there's a chance teams should start running more often on two point plays.