Should it be harder to score an extra point or field goal in NFL games? If so, what’s the best way to go about changing the process — should the space between the goal posts be narrower? To tackle that questions, the NFL is using special new footballs equipped with computer chips to collect data about each kick.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Dean Blandino, the NFL’s senior vice-president of officiating, said the league and its competition committee “continue to look at” making field-goal kicking more difficult. That’s because players have just become more accurate as the seasons go by, making 85% of attempts in the past three seasons.
Whether or not to narrow the uprights to make those kicks harder is one of the big questions, Blandino said in the interview. As it stands now, the distance between the posts is 18 feet, 6 inches.
“That would be one way to affect both the extra point and the field goal,” Blandino said of moving the goalposts, adding that success rates “have continued to climb over the years as our field-goal kickers and that whole process has become so specialized, from long snapper to holder to kicker.”
One way they’re studying the issue will be by using footballs equipped with sensors — “instrument” balls — for every kick in every game of the preseason. The sensors in the ball will relay information to help the competition committee determine precisely how far inside the uprights all successful field goals and extra points have been kicked.
If the pre-season test goes well, the committee might decide to continue gathering such data in the regular season, by using computer-chip kick balls during Thursday night games only.
“Following the preseason test, the Competition Committee will review the results to determine how the balls performed along with the potential uses of the data collected,” Blandino told the Daily Dot.
The competition committee will digest findings after the 2016 season and various studies, “and determine, if we do decide to shorten the distance between the uprights, what is the right distance, and where should it be to make it a more difficult kick,” Blandino said in his Toronto Sun interview.
This isn’t the first time the NFL has used data-tracking, the Daily Dot notes: as part of the league’s Next Gen Stats player tracking process, players have had RFID chips inserted in their shoulder pads for the past two years. Those chips track speed, distance, and direction traveled by each player in real time, stats that fans could access alongside highlight clips through the NFL app for the Xbox One and Windows 10 devices.