Football has a longer history than people may realize. With roots dating back to the 19th century, the game has endured many changes to turn it into the game it is today. One fascinating part has to do with the field goal posts. Since the beginning of football, field goal posts have experienced a variety of changes both big and small.
The first goal posts
According to ProFootballHOF, the first rule book in pro football stated that the field goal should be placed at the end of the field, not the goal zone. The two posts were 18 feet and six inches apart, with a crossbar 10 feet from the ground. This was inspired by rugby, and as football is most related to this sport, it makes sense.
The general size and layout remained this way for over 30 years. When the NFL was introduced in 1920, not much changed either. Then, in 1927, the NCAA moved the goal posts to the end line. The NFL, which adhered to the same rulebook, quickly followed. This had an unintended consequence, as fewer teams took field goals and more games ended in ties.
Goal-post trial and error
Eventually, the NFL threw out the NCAA rule book and moved the goal posts back to the goal line. This made more teams try field goals and majorly cut the number of tie games. This setup survived for 33 years until the NFL required the posts to go behind the goal line and ascend 20 feet in the air. The signature gold color was adopted at this time, too.
According to ProFootballHOF, it was around this time that the league adopted the current style of goal posts known today. A previous design with two different posts proved to be a safety hazard as they tended to fall.
In 1974, the NFL pushed the posts back to the end line in an attempt to encourage more exciting play and less dependency on the field goal. Field goals dropped again and touchdowns were on the rise. This is the basic way field goals have worked for the last 45 years.
To this day, the 18-foot-6-inch wide goal post is used in professional and college football. Although the height regulation of the posts has changed, they serve largely the same purpose as they did in the late 19th century.
Time for a goal-post change?
While the basic layout of the football field will likely stay the same, some believe the role of field goals will change. While it is worth three points, some have called for the second tier of field goal worth more points. In 2016, Sports Illustrated pled the case for a four-point field goal.
Throughout football history, field goals have taken on many different forms. At any given time, they were worth three points, four points, and even five points while the game still settled on the rules. With proposals like SI’s, field goals over 50 yards would be worth one more point. As such, the strategy behind midfield play would change forever.
If a team was in three-point range but wanted an extra point, they could theoretically run backward and take a down for their kicker. Conversely, if a team was on defense, they could allow a team to get the extra yard before taking them down and bringing them out of range. Most importantly, this would cut down on punting, as more teams would take the extra risk.
Field goals have taken many forms both in goal-post setup and the way they’re used throughout the game. From the very first goal posts to the one used today, each era tells a story of the game. Whether or not rules change, the image of goal posts on a football field is as iconic as a basketball hoop or a home run fence.