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Bad Idea Time: Why it should cost one point to punt

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Here are seven ways this would make football better.

Iowa vs. Nebraska Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

Many blackjack tables have a surrender option that, without getting too detailed, allows you to fold your hand after all the cards have been dealt but before you do anything else. If you think your bad cards are likely to lose to the good card the dealer’s showing, you get to keep half of what you bet while the house gets the other half.

It’s an interesting wrinkle, and one many players just avoid. It’s the equivalent of punting in blackjack, with one major difference: punting doesn’t formally cost you anything.

You’re going to say, “hey, punting means you don’t have the ball anymore, and maybe they’re going to score on a punt return!” While all those things are true, those costs are still clearly not high enough to keep coaches from punting on fourth-and-short or in opponent territory or all the other times we wish they wouldn’t.

I don’t blame coaches for their hesitation. I blame the risk/reward calculus football has provided them, so I propose we change it by deducting one point from each team that punts, every time.

(waiting for thunderous applause to stop)

Thank you. Here’s why I think this will make football better:

1. Keep games closer.

Right now, one purpose the punt serves is to protect a lead. This doesn’t eliminate that entirely, but it does compromise it. Punt on your last three possessions in the current system with a 17-point lead, and your opponent has to score every time they get the ball. Do the same thing under this new system, and now they only need two touchdowns.

Essentially, we’re making coaches really consider whether or not to punt, rather than just do it because it’s the comparatively safe option.

2. It’s more balanced than you think.

In 2017, FBS teams punted a combined 8,233 times. So we have 8,000-plus points to distribute, though not evenly. Alabama and Ohio State, for instance, each had 39 more punts forced than punts themselves, which isn’t that surprising, given that both had top-10 defenses in S&P+.

But it doesn’t just reward teams with good defenses. Oklahoma State’s also picking up 31 net points in this system. That’s largely because of their offense, which only punted 41 times all year, tied for second-fewest.

On the other end of the spectrum, teams like Oregon State, Kansas, and Illinois punted at least 20 more times than their opponents did, adding to their scoring deficits. Those teams won a combined four games, so, yeah, I’m not gonna feel too guilty about that.

It feels tricky to say which games this would’ve flipped, because coaches wouldn’t have made the same decisions. But for one example, 2017 Michigan State beat Michigan by four while punting 11 times to UM’s seven, so if that game had played out the same way, it would’ve gone to overtime.

(Florida loses 10 points, and Iowa loses five, for the record.)

3. Coaches will have to go for it on fourth more often.

Take the end of regulation of the 2017 season’s Rose Bowl. An incomplete pass on third down left Oklahoma facing fourth-and-2 at their own 45 with 17 seconds to go and the game tied. In reality, they punted it away and played for overtime. That’s not gonna work here. Every game that’s tied late now feels like overtime!

4. When coaches elect to punt, it’s going to feel weightier.

Let’s go to the early fourth quarter of 2017’s Miami-FSU game, when the Canes had the ball at their own 44. It was fourth-and-6, and they led 10-3. Punting still might be smart; your defense has played pretty well, and you can give Florida State a long field to march down. But if you do that, you’ll put them in position to take the lead with a touchdown or tie it with two field goals.

Is that a good trade in a close game with a lot of time left to play? Let’s find out!

5. Fake punts would be even more satisfying.

Take this Melvin Ingram touchdown against Georgia in 2011.

That’s not a seven-point swing in a close game. That’s an EIGHT-point swing. Even fakes that don’t work are going to be a little more enjoyable — you didn’t punt, so you didn’t lose a point!

6. It rewards defenses more tangibly.

Stopping your opponent deep in their own territory is going to be more satisfying when you’re getting a point for it AND likely winding up with good field position. Even if the offense squanders it, you’ve got something positive to show for it.

Heck, coaches already feel this is the way this should work, based on the convoluted offense-vs.-defense scoring systems they’ve devised for spring games. Jim Tressel has a championship ring, and he gave his defense one point whenever they forced a punt!

7. Scores are going to get really, really funny. Remember this game?

Michigan punted four times, so let’s mark them down to 74. Rutgers? SIXTEEN PUNTS AND A FINAL SCORE OF 74 TO NEGATIVE SIXTEEN HELL YES.

Many of you picked up on this and offered some suggestions of your own.

Not only are these numbers hilarious, they are far, far more indicative of the quality of these games than the scoring system we use now. Deducting a point for every punt isn’t just more exciting, it’s more honest.