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NFL Aims To Spice Up Games With Tweak To Extra Point Rules

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports. The rules, they are a-changing. This past week, NFL owners approved two new rule changes for the next football season. One of those has been called the biggest change to NFL scoring in the league's 95-year history. Mike Pesca, host of Slate's "The Gist" podcast is here to explain why we should care. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi. And the pathetic thing is, it's such a tiny rule change.

MARTIN: Tell me.

PESCA: It's about extra points.

MARTIN: OK, extra points. So what's the change? What's the big deal here?

PESCA: They're so easy. So last year, 99.3 percent of extra point attempts were successful. The NFL said that's too easy. That's boring. Plus, we've got to show them on TV. It's the most boring part of the game. Why have it be automatic? We're going to move it back. So instead of the kick being from the 2-yard line, it's now going to be from the 15, the equivalent of a 30-yard field goal. Here's the problem. From that distance, kickers made 96 percent of their attempts.

MARTIN: So it doesn't create that much drama anyway.

PESCA: No, not at all. And some people in the league, coaches are saying, oh, now teams will try for a 2-point conversion more and so, therefore, it will be more exciting. If extra points are harder, the kick is no longer automatic. Why not try for two - because you don't understand human nature. The way human beings act is they don't discern between a 99 percent chance and a 95 percent chance. And they don't really - it won't affect their behavior if they have a 35 percent chance at the top pick or a 31 percent chance at the top pick. These little gradations in percentage don't affect behavior. I do not expect this to affect much.

MARTIN: So I just asked you why we should care, and you essentially said we shouldn't.

PESCA: I think it's telling. No, I think we should - I think we should care. Well, it is the biggest rule change in, whatever, 95 years since the league was founded in a Hupmobile showroom. But I think it does indicate that the NFL is willing to address boring on-field play. They know that they have a product. They're not resting on their laurels. They're doing what they can. And this is, pardon the pun, maybe a toe-touch. Maybe even next year, the rule gets expanded and gets a little more exciting. And if you look at the process of how they voted on this and how it was handled in a very efficient manner, contrast that with everything else, the real issues, the big issues - concussions, off-field violence, where the NFL has no clue. It's pretty telling. It's a pretty good league in terms of what happens in between those yard lines. And anything outside, I don't know. Maybe the most generous thing I could say is that they're just as lost as the rest of us.

MARTIN: So as you just said, they're not addressing these big issues we've been talking about - domestic violence, concussions. Instead they're making this incremental rule change. What precipitated this, if this is such a monumental change? They don't do this a lot, change the rules.

PESCA: I think that they are good at the stuff that actually happens on the field. And as much criticism as Roger Goodell, the commissioner, gets for capricious punishments, when it comes to making the game an entertaining game, he's really good. He got a lot of criticism for rules protecting the quarterback. But - you know what? - that means that guys can play into their 40s or near 40s - Peyton Manning, Tom Brady. Even instant replay rules, though tweaked here and there, they're trying to make the game a better experience for the viewer. It's the everything else part that shows that, you know, my basic sentence with the NFL is don't expect it to be anything other than a football league. And let's not try to foist upon it anything other than a good four hours of Sunday time-wasting.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca - his podcast is called "The Gist." You can find on slate.com. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.