Things I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know, College Football Edition

The other night, something weird happened in a bowl game that, apparently, has only happened one other time in Division I college football: the offense scored a 1-point safety on a point-after attempt.

This has resulted in LOTS of confusion and ignorant statements, which is par for the course with sports, and in this case it’s at least partially justified because the rules for college are very, very different from high school and college on this point. In those leagues, a change in possession during a PAT or 2-point conversion ends the play. No points are scored, and the kickoff proceeds normally. Not so in the NCAA.

The actual sequence of play in the Oregon game was something like this:

  1. Oregon lines up for a PAT kick.
  2. Ball is snapped.
  3. K State blocks the kick, and recovers the ball outside the end zone. (This is where, in the NFL or high school, the play would be whistled dead.)
  4. Wildcat player enters his own end zone to evade Ducks.
  5. Duck tackles Wildcat in the Wildcat end zone to end the play.

(The Wildcat, as part of his run, had also fumbled and recovered his own fumble, but this part wasn’t relevant to the ruling.)

The ruling on the field, which is correct, is that the Ducks scored a 1-point safety. This confused the bejesus out of some people; fortunately, we here at Heathen are some intensely pedantic motherfuckers.


Perusing the aforelinked NCAA rules actually makes this much clearer than you’d expect. The most stark thing you notice in that PDF is that the words “extra point” or “two point conversion” aren’t used in the rules. As far as the NCAA is concerned, there are only touchdowns, field goals, and safeties — but these things occur in both regular play and try downs, which are the single plays run after a touchdown scored in regularly play. You know a try down as the PAT or two-point conversion attempt. The try down is the source of much confusion!

During regularly play, as you know, a touchdown is 6, a field goal is 3, and a safety is 2. During a try down, however, the touchdown is 2, and the field goal and safety are worth only 1. (N.B. that this means an intercepted 2-point attempt run all the way back to the other end zone would be worth 2, not 6; this is called a defensive two-point conversion, and is also only possible in NCAA football.)

What happened in the Fiesta Bowl is clearly a safety — the player entered his own end zone deliberately, and was downed there. That counts as a safety in regular play, and in college try downs are no different. As a consequence, Oregon was awarded the single point.

As noted, this is super, super rare — but even rarer is a possibility allowed for the rules, but never actually seen in play: it’s possible (but incredibly unlikely) for the defense to score a safety on a try, too. Should a member of the kicking team deliberately enter his own end zone while holding the ball, and be downed there (say, after recovering a fumble from an intercepting defender who caught butterfinger disease a yard shy of the end zone), the defense would score a defensive conversion safety worth a single point — which means that, contrary to popular opinion, a score of 1 is possible in American football after all.

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