Adding drama to the PAT

InsideTennessee thinks outside the box to give its readers story angles other websites overlook. Check out this intriguing look at some possible changes to the PAT that could add more strategy and drama to college and pro football:

The best thing about the point-after-touchdown kick is that it gives football fans a chance to visit the restroom or the concession stand.

Football is the most exciting game on Earth, yet the PAT kick provides no drama whatsoever. Statistics show that 99 percent of NFL attempts and 95 percent of college kicks are successfully converted. That’s why, as soon as the officials raise their hands to signal a touchdown, fans leave their seats to fill their stomachs or empty their bladders. Why stick around to watch a kick that is virtually automatic?

To combat the boredom of the conversion kick, some creative thinkers propose moving the PAT snap from the 3-yard line to the 1-yard line, thus encouraging more teams to attempt two-point conversions. The proposal sounds radical but it has merit: Why not discourage the dullest play in football (the extra-point kick) while simultaneously encouraging one of the most exciting plays in football (the two-point try)?

Tennessee’s special-teams coordinator finds the concept intriguing.

“Moving it to the 1 would be interesting; that’s for sure,” Mark Elder told InsideTennessee. “If you move that thing to the 1 and you’ve only got to go one yard for two points that would be interesting.”

Currently, college teams have the option of kicking the PAT from the 3-yard line or “going for two” from the same spot. Statistics show that two-point conversion attempts from the 3-yard line succeed roughly half of the time. Obviously, two-point tries from the 1-yard line would be far more likely to work.

“I would certainly think a higher percentage of people would be going for two, which would make the games more interesting,” Elder said. “Now, every time you score, there would be something else on the line, and you’d see a much higher percentage of people going for the two. That would change a lot of thought processes, and there would be a lot more variance in the scores I would imagine.”

InsideTennessee contacted three former Vol place-kickers to get their thoughts on the proposed PAT change – James Wilhoit, Michael Palardy and Jeff Hall. Wilhoit missed a fourth-quarter PAT in the 2004 Florida game but redeemed himself by nailing a 50-yard field goal in the closing seconds to secure a 30-28 win. Palardy is best known for the final-play field goal that upset South Carolina 23-21 in 2010. Hall literally kick-started Tennessee’s drive to the 1998 national championship by booting game-winning field goals that nipped Syracuse (34-33) and Florida (20-17) in Games 1 and 2.

Wilhoit now teaches and coaches at Mount Juliet High School. He also mentors kickers, including Tennessee’s Aaron Medley. As a fan, Wilhoit understands that the PAT kick is boring. As a former kicker, however, he wants to ensure that placements remain a part of the game.

“The extra point has become automatic,” he conceded, “but I’m a proponent of kickers, and I don’t want kickers to disappear. They already talked about taking the kickoff out of the game (to reduce injuries) and now they’re talking about taking the PAT out of the game. I think the PAT is important for a kicker because you only try one or two field goals per game. If you’ve already hit a PAT you have your rhythm and confidence when you line up for a field goal, which makes a lot of difference.”

Since NFL teams place the ball at the 2-yard line for conversions, moving to the 1 might seem insignificant. Then again, maybe not.

“Some coaches, depending on their philosophy and style, would be more inclined to go for two,” said Palardy, now battling for a roster spot with the St. Louis Rams. “Some coaches would be more conservative (and take the sure PAT kick) since that (two-point try) is just a yard closer.”

Hall, a teacher and former assistant coach at Christian Academy of Knoxville, agrees that placing the ball at the 1-yard line for PATs would add more strategy and drama, noting: “I think if people are looking for more excitement, it would force coaches to consider fakes and going for two more often.”

Another proposal aimed at making the PAT more interesting involves moving the snap to the 10-yard line. This turns a 20-yard kick into a 27-yard attempt. Thoughts on the potential impact vary greatly.

Palardy believes the game would change significantly if the PAT snap originated at the 10-yard line.

“It would definitely increase the amount of misses,” he said. “From a kicker’s standpoint, we want to improve our percentage as much as we can but I think that would definitely add some excitement to the game.”

The NFL already held preliminary discussions about moving PAT kicks to the 10-yard line, with more talks scheduled this summer. A change could be enacted in time for the 2015 season. Taking the pro-active approach, the Rams are working on 27-yard PATs this spring.

“That’s what we’ve been practicing in case that situation occurs,” Palardy said. “I don’t mind it. It makes the game a little more interesting in terms of excitement and anticipation. Instead of a 20-yard kick it becomes a 27-yard kick, which decreases the percentages. I have no issue with it.”

Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

Most guys resent changes that make their jobs more difficult. Not Palardy.

“Obviously, as kickers, we shoot for the highest percentage possible in order to keep our jobs,” he said. “Still, I think it (27-yard PAT) would make things a lot more interesting. It will definitely change the outcome of some games.”

Wilhoit agrees that moving the PAT snap to the 10-yard line would result in more misses and more drama.

“I’d estimate you’d go down to about 92 percent – maybe 88 percent – if you snapped the ball at the 10-yard line,” he said. “Some guys would struggle with it. When you get a penalty on a PAT, guys miss sometimes because they lose concentration. You can lose concentration kicking from the 20 and still hit the PAT because you have some margin for error. There’s not much margin for error if you’re snapping from the 10-yard line, so that would make the PAT more interesting.”

Elder tends to disagree.

“With the ball in the middle of the field on the 10, a 27-yard kick for a Division 1 college kicker should be a chip shot,” the Vol aide said. “I’m not saying you’re never going to miss one but it’s going to have to be a pretty big mis-hit. Now if you move the ball out to the 15- or the 20-yard line that would be quite a bit different.”

Hall agrees that moving the PAT snap to the 10-yard line “shouldn’t make a ton of difference in success rates,” adding: “In the NFL it probably wouldn't go below 95 percent. In college it probably wouldn’t go below 85 percent.”

Wilhoit made 98.7 percent (148 of 150) of his PAT attempts as a Vol between 2003 and 2006. Hall connected on 96.9 percent (188 of 194) between 1995 and 1998. Palardy nailed 94.8 percent (109 of 115) between 2010 and 2013. Despite these imposing numbers, Hall says the conversion kick isn’t nearly as easy as it appears.

“I can remember a ton of times sneaking a PAT inside the right or left upright,” he recalled. “You see that happen a lot on extra points.”

Ultimately, Hall would prefer moving the conversion snap forward rather than backward.

“If I had my choice I’d probably rather move it to the 1,” he said. “There would be less opportunities that way (due to more two-point tries), rather than a greater chance of missing.”

When asked if he would favor moving the PAT to the 1-yard line to encourage two-point tries or to the 10-yard line to create more drama, Tennessee’s head coach quickly shook his head.

“No,” Butch Jones said. “I like it the way it is.”


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