Here is my Friday column.
The NFL wants to make football more entertaining. The NFL means well.
An eight-member competition committee of coaches and executives believes the extra point needs fixing. It’s just like a 20-yard field goal. Last season, kickers made them 99.6 percent of the time.
“The extra point is almost automatic,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL Network in January. “It’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.”
The competition committee has come up with two potential fixes:
1. Get rid of the extra-point kick. Make touchdowns worth seven points instead of six. Teams would have the choice to go for an eighth point by running or passing the ball into the end zone from the 2. If the team fails to score the eighth point, it is penalized and gets only six for the touchdown. So, there is a risk for going for the extra point.
2. Move the line of scrimmage for the extra-point kick from the 2 back to the 25. That’s a 43-yard kick. Hardly automatic. Kickers made 43-yarders about 85 percent of the time last season.
Either move would make football more exciting.
I don’t like either move. I object.
Changing the extra point is an NBA-move. The NBA is the third-most-popular professional sports league in the country behind the NFL and Major League Baseball. The NBA constantly reinvents itself, hoping to create excitement and, one day, become as popular as the other two sports.
In 1947, the NBA banned the zone defense. In 2001, the NBA unbanned the zone defense.
In 1979, the NBA added the 3-point shot. Now, the NBA is considering adding a 4-point shot. It’s also thinking about widening the court.
The NBA probably would eliminate dribbling if a focus group decided dribbling is boring. The NBA probably would sell out any element of basketball if doing so might increase the league’s popularity.
The NFL already is the most popular sport in the country, has held that distinction for about 30 years. The NFL doesn’t have to sell out its tradition for popularity like the NBA. The NFL should cultivate its tradition like MLB. Baseball honors its traditions, even the boring ones.
Baseball basically is the same sport Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson and Jackie Robinson played. With the exception of the designated hitter. That was a horrible, NBA-esque addition to the sport, and the American League should get rid of it. It’s not in the spirit of baseball. Hitting is a privilege. You should have to field a position to get the privilege. For the rest of this column, let’s pretend the DH doesn’t exist.
There is something perfect about baseball, and its numbers are sacred. Sixty-feet, 6 inches is the perfect distance between home plate and the rubber. You can say the number 60 feet, 6 inches to people and they instantly know what you mean. You don’t change baseball’s numbers now, just as you don’t rewrite the Torah in the 21st Century.
Ninety feet is another hallowed number. It is the perfect distance between the bases. Baseball’s dimensions are magical – like “PI.” A groundball to the shortstop is a routine out today, it was a routine out 100 years ago and it will be a routine out as long as people exist and play baseball.
MLB does not have to move the bases in 5 feet, change the distance between bases to 85 feet, to make groundballs more entertaining.
When a pitcher decides to intentionally walk a batter, the pitcher can’t just point to first base and wave the batter over there. The catcher has to stand up and hold his arm to the side, and the pitcher has to throw four balls.
Even Latin American leagues and Asian leagues embrace the boring parts of baseball. They don’t add twists to the rules and change the structure of the sport to make their leagues unique and exciting. Professional baseball pretty much is the same no matter where it’s played.
Not football. The Canadian Football League uses an extra-large field, and the Arena League uses an extra-small field. Those leagues’ entire existence is based on twists and gimmicks, as if football is not inherently entertaining.
But it is. The NFL should celebrate its tradition as baseball does. Leave the extra point alone.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.