NFL owners just made a pretty rare and substantial change to one of the core aspects of the game. Starting this season, after scoring a touchdown, teams will kick extra points from the 15-yard-line.
Previously, extra points were kicked from the two-yard line. Now, teams will have to kick from farther out — or opt for a two-point conversion, which can still be done from the two-yard line.
How did the old system work?
In football, touchdowns are worth six points — to get the full seven, you have to kick an extra point afterward. Since 1912, this has been done from the two-yard-line, allowing for an extremely short kick that's pretty easy to make.
Since 1958, in college football, teams have also been allowed to try for two points, instead of one, by running or throwing the ball into the end zone. The NFL adopted the same rule in 1994.
So why is the NFL changing things?
The extra point has gotten too easy. Kickers have gotten extremely good over time: over the past four seasons, they've missed just 26 of 4,939 extra points. They've made at least 97 percent of extra points every season since 1988.
Partly as a result, teams rarely try for two-point conversions — they only attempted 59 in total last season, less than two per team.
From an entertainment perspective, such a predictable play is suboptimal. As Sports Illustrated's Peter King points out, combined with the commercial that follows the extra point and the kickoff, which is rarely returned (due to recent rule changes intended to make the sport safer), it means there's about 4 minutes of dead time after each touchdown.
So what will teams do now after a touchdown?
The league intends to force teams to make a difficult choice. They can kick an extra point from the 15-yard-line, or try for a two-point conversion from the two. (The same system was implemented as an experiment for part of last year's preseason.)
A kick from the 15 is actually a 33-yard field goal, because the end zone is ten yards deep, and the kicker usually kicks from eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.
This might actually get some teams to go for two on a regular basis. Over the past few years, kickers have made about 93 percent of kicks from this distance. Meanwhile, in 2014, teams scored on 47.5 percent of two-point conversions.
This means that, on average, you can expect to score very slightly more points going for two than one. The expected value, though, is extremely close, so coaches' decisions here will depend a lot on the game situation (how much they're winning or losing by), the success of their offense, the skill of their kicker, and other variables.
Is there anything else to know?
Yes. In the past, if a team missed an extra point or fumbled on two-point conversion, the play was immediately blown dead. Defensive teams couldn't score by running it back to the other end zone.
Now, if the offensive team fumbles, throws an interception, or misses the kick, the defense can try to run it back for two points themselves. This means we should see some pretty exciting 90-yard chases down the field this coming season — and it's something coaches will have to keep in the back of their minds when deciding whether to go for two.
Also, the new rule is only in place for this year. If it doesn't get enough teams to try for two, experts say the league could push extra points back even further in 2016.