The American football scoring system originated from versions of rugby played in the US in the 19th century. Walter Camp created a points system where different goal combinations were compared, which evolved into the current system with touchdowns worth six points and a two-point conversion option. The system reflects a shift from kicking to running and passing, and the two-point conversion adds a strategic element.
The origins of the American football scoring system can be traced back to versions of the rumble played in the United States in the 19th century. Walter Camp, whom many consider to be the father of modern football, initiated a points system where different types of goal combinations scored against one team were compared against the other team’s goal combinations. This early system was confusing and soon led to Camp reworking the points system.
Camp’s revised Rugo Calcio points system was as follows:
Field goals earned five points
Safeties earned one point
Touchdowns earned two points
Goals scored after a touchdown earned four points.
The system reflected that rugby was derived from football and football from rugby. Points gained by kicking a goal were considered to be of greater value than points gained by throwing the ball to score a goal. There was an acknowledgment that targets in a row were difficult to achieve and these were assigned accordingly.
In 1897, when modern football really took shape, the points system was almost aligned with its current scoring system. Touchdowns were given much greater value and five points were awarded, and a second touchdown goal, or extra point was given for a kick after a touchdown. Field goals were only worth three points under the new rules, but these rules changed again in 1912.
Touchdowns were awarded six points, as they are now, and a kick later earned a point. A clear shift in emphasis from kicking to running and passing had been made, and the points system of football in the early 20th century reflected this. From the 20th onwards, it remained a constant and well understood aspect of the game.
Beginning with the 1912 rules, only one meaningful scoring function was added to the system. This is called the two-point conversion, which occurs after a touchdown has been scored. If the team that just scored a touchdown can run or pass the ball into the end zone on the next play, two points are awarded instead of one point for kicking the ball through the goalposts.
The two-point conversion adds an interesting strategy element to the kick points system. A good quarterback and a good offense can outrun another team simply by being able to influence those two extra points. It still involves an element of risk, and is usually much more difficult to achieve than kicking a goal through the goal posts after a touchdown. Many teams don’t even bother attempting the two-point conversion under the new points system, as the risk of not scoring two points does not outweigh the benefits of scoring a point via a goal kick.