Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Couldn’t NFL learn old rules before making new ones?

I guess I missed the part where NFL games had gotten so boring that fans weren’t watching.

The top 20 rated programs on television last fall? All NFL games.

In-house attendance in some league cities is an issue, granted.

But that might be specifically attributable to a combination of high ticket prices and low-quality football in some places.

So I have to squint pretty hard to see the necessity for the somewhat drastic change in the league’s extra-point protocol, moving the PAT kick back to the 15-yard line (roughly equivalent to a 33-yard field goal), and allowing defenses to score on a turnover return rather than having the play blown dead.

If there’s something that endangers the appeal of the game, it’s not the extra-point situation as it was but the cumbersome code of rules that slows the game down and is so confusing as to cause misinterpretations that lead to bad rulings.

What’s a catch? What’s interference? What’s illegal contact?

Even players and coaches aren’t sure. Even the refs have to huddle and take testimony on these matters several times a game.

Last winter’s playoffs were as exciting as ever, except for those lengthy periods when officials convened and staged lengthy debates over rulings.

Some people might not be going to games at the stadium because they can get better explanations of the unrelenting rules interpretations on the television broadcasts at home.

If this adds to the competitive suspense, it surely will come at the cost of further confusion.

The initiative passed at this week’s owners’ meetings seemed generated by two goals: 1) To make the PAT kick less automatic than the 99 percent success rate it has been, and 2) to lure teams into going for two points and committing an extra football play or two during a time when viewers might otherwise be heading toward the fridge.

Response has been tepid, with some players believing that adding extra contact plays every game runs counter to the league’s declared concern over player safety.

But it’s here. So what’s the effect?

Seahawks fans should be delighted. Kicker Steven Hauschka is 19 for 19 the past two seasons in the 30- to 39-yard range, and the change also gives the Seahawks defense the chance to score on a few more plays.

But since the Seahawks allow so few touchdowns, will it be noticed? The past two seasons, opponents have attempted just 42 PAT kicks against the Seahawks — 1.3 a game.

The rule change will add to the strategic burden of coaches, and surely opens them up to further postgame inquisitions regarding decisions. Those are always fun.

Until some numbers come in, it’s fair to assume that coaches will remain conservative about going for two unless the late-game point margin demands it. NFL kickers still connect on better than 90 percent from around 33 yards out, while many bad things can happen when running plays near the goal line.

Early statistical studies of the various options make the PAT quandary still a close call.

I can tell you which teams I think will benefit: the best ones, with the best staffs. Just like any other situation, the superior athlete with the best coaching will most quickly and completely adapt and exploit the rule.

The second this was announced, of course, special teams coaches were tasked with coming up with a study on the percentages and some tentative tactical approaches.

Coach Pete Carroll and his Seahawks staff have to be looking at new draft pick Obum Gwacham from Oregon State, questioning how they might be able to use his background as a 7-foot-1 high jumper to block PATs.

But not just block the kick. Maybe he could volleyball-tap it over to a teammate breaking the other direction to score a conversion of their own.

Yeah, hey, maybe that would be an exciting play to see.

Except it would take the refs 10 minutes to figure out if it was legal, and then how to score it.

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