The Sports Revolution: The Bonus Field Goal

Let me set the scene for you: There are four seconds left in an intense NFL playoff game. The visiting team, down by three and at the opponent’s 30-yard line, sends out its placekicker for a 48-yard field goal that will either end his team’s season or send the game to overtime. It is a dramatic moment.

Let me reset the scene for you: There are four seconds left in an intense NFL playoff game. The visiting team, down by three and at the opponent’s 30-yard line, sends out its placekicker for a 48-yard field goal that will end his team’s season, send the game to overtime, or end the other team’s season. Because especially accurate kicks that travel between Arena League-style interior uprights are worth four points, it is as dramatic as moments get in sports. Win, tie, and loss are all in play.

We can all agree that not all field goals are the same; some are more difficult than others. This has been the main motivation for changing the point distribution on field goals; theoretically, kicks that are harder to make should be worth more than easier ones. Most suggestions along this line, then, endorse making a field goal in excess of 50 yards worth an extra point.

But this proposal ignores a not insignificant aspect of the field-goal kicking aesthetic, which is that the worse the offense performs, the harder the field goal. It is nonsensical to award an offense that gets to the 35-yard line with the opportunity to earn more points than one that reaches the 30 or the 20 or the 10. Teams at the 30-yard line would probably send their holder back 10 yards instead of eight to attempt a four-point 50-yard field goal instead of a three-point 48-yarder. In other words, chaos.

We should reward kickers not for the distance of their kicks, but for their accuracy. A chip shot field goal kicked through the middle of the uprights deserves more points than one that sneaks inside the left upright. That is why I am proposing that we take the one interesting aspect of the Arena League and bring it to the NFL: Inside the traditional 18.5-feet-wide goal posts would be two additional interior goal posts, each three feet from center.*

*Arena League goal posts were nine-feet wide. We’ll cut it to six to really reward only the best kicks.

A field goal that finds its way through these goal posts would be worth four points. In this way, we reward both the kicker for his accuracy and the offense for making such an accurate field goal possible by moving closer to the goal line. One of the most significant changes to the sport of football over the last half-century has been the shift in field-goal kicking from haphazard risk to more or less sure thing. Look at the progression:

1969: 52.7%

1979: 63.0%

1989: 72.5%

1999: 77.7%

2009: 81.3%

It’s the closest thing the sport has to the Flynn Effect—a widespread, consistent, and for a time, linear increase in the success of field goals. This increase in accuracy has been accommodated by a dramatic increase in the number of overall attempts (I would propose due to increased confidence in kickers just as much as more tangible things such as the expansion of the league and season). Furthermore, it’s only natural to assume that number would continue to go up, since it has always gone up. The rate may slow as rates tend to do, but it is difficult to imagine it reversing course. The NFL has already tried to alter field-goal kicking via technology, by forcing kickers to use special footballs that they can’t prepare before the game. It has not worked, except when you play against the New York Jets. Average kickers, then, have become every bit as reliable as the best once were. Mark Moseley’s 20-of-21 in 1982 was good enough to earn him an MVP award, and yet we didn’t hear a peep in support of the Lions’ Jason Hanson in 2008, when he went 21-of-22. One can only imagine how much larger Detroit’s point differential during an 0-16 season would have been without Hanson.

By instituting interior goal posts, you once again create a distinction between the game’s best kickers and its average ones. A kicker who can routinely slice it through the six-foot posts would become a tremendous asset, worth an extra point or two every game. Moreover, we equalize the scoring methods. It has long troubled Pierre that a single touchdown plus point after is worth more than two field goals; now, a team that launches one good drive that results in a normal field goal and one very good drive inside the 10 that nets a bonus field goal can match those seven points. Two drives deep into enemy territory for bonus field goals can score eight; for what is more impressive, an 80-yard touchdown pass or two 75-yard drives stopped at the five?

The Arena League has folded but its spirit shall live on. Add to the drama of the placekicking, and you heighten the drama of the game.


One response to this post.

  1. […] Josh Scobee’s 59-yard field goal was just more evidence that field goals are simply too easy in the modern-day NFL. Maybe Pierre was on to something.* […]


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