Roger Goodell – The Best Magician in Sports

Earlier this week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Rich Eisen of the NFL Network that the Competition Committee is considering eliminating the extra point in favor of some type of alternative scoring system.

Here is what Goodell said on the topic:

“The extra point is almost automatic.  I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd [tries].  So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.  So there have been some proposals.  Some are still going through the process of creativity.  But there’s one proposal in particular that I’ve heard about.   It’s automatic that you get seven points when you score a touchdown, but you could potentially go for an eighth point by running or passing the ball, so if you fail, you go back to six.”

Goodell’s suggestion of eliminating the extra point has created quite the stir among football writers and fans alike.  Since Monday, every major sports website has had articles on this topic featured on their homepages.  Some writers are for abolishing the extra point (Sports Illustrated, LA Times), while others are against it (Sports on Earth, ESPN).  Peter King chimed in on Twitter yesterday when he called the extra point “the biggest waste of time in American sport.”

Some commentators have wondered “what’s the rush?”  With the Super Bowl right around the corner, why would Goodell choose this moment to suggest that extra points might be going the way of Old Yeller?  Certainly, the timing of Goodell’s pronouncement seems a bit odd.

Or, does it?

When one actually thinks about the potential motivation underlying his statements, Goodell’s timing appears to be impeccable.

For the past few days, people have been preoccupied with debating the merits of the extra point and assessing whether the extra point is an exciting enough of a play to be a necessary part of the game of football going forward.  Writers, fans, kickers (former and current), and players have all been offering their two cents on the subject.

The key is to understand what hasn’t been talked about over the past few days.

Less than ten days ago Judge Anita Brody rejected the initial class settlement proposal and four days ago the President of the United States unequivocally stated that he would not let his son play football due to concerns related to concussions.  Noticeably, however, there does not seem to be that been many stories about the concussion litigation this week.  Similarly, despite the fact that New Jersey is still digging out after a major snowstorm and below freezing temperatures are expected for the next ten days, I have heard very few people harping on the potential game-time conditions for the Super Bowl.  Last weekend, there were many blown calls in the 49ers-Seahawks game (the missed roughing the punter penalty in the third quarter, the missed fumble recovery by NaVorro Bowman).  Yet, in the wake of the extra point discussion, the horrendous refereeing has become old news.

Roger Goodell is a smart man, and his decision to discuss potentially eliminating the extra point was a calculated one.  Instead of the headlines this week being dominated by any of the potentially negative stories about the NFL recounted above, sports writers have been debating the fate of the extra point.

Certainly, the outcry and discussions about the extra point will quickly begin to fade.  But, by that point, Super Bowl week will be upon us, and the media will focus its attention on heartwarming stories about the Super Bowl participants (such as Champ Bailey playing in his first Super Bowl) or interviews with all the members of the Manning family (yes, even Cooper).

In discussing the potential demise of the extra point, Roger Goodell simply created a diversion.  It’s the oldest trick in the magician’s playbook:  have everyone focus on your left hand when they should really be looking at what the right hand is doing.

(Note:  The featured image is used courtesy of Anthony Quintano via Flickr.)

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