(Updated with Oregon’s Fiesta Bowl and Hamline’s 2000 one-point safeties.)
Before the 1988 season, the NCAA made a rule change, awarding college football teams two points for returning a failed extra point or two-point conversion. This happens occasionally (9 times in I-A football in 2005).
This rule change brought in play a truly obscure rule: the one-point safety. If a defensive player retreats into his own end zone following an interception, fumble, or blocked kick on a conversion attempt and is tackled there, the tackling team is awarded 1 point. (Similarly, if the converting team retreats into its own end zone and is tackled there, the defense is awarded 1 point, but that end zone is 97 yards away, so this is extremely unlikely.) This rule did exist before 1988, but the defense had no incentive to return a failed conversation, so it had no effect.
NCAA Rule 8-1-1: The point value of scoring plays shall be … Successful Try: … Safety — 1 Point.
Approved Ruling 8-3-2-I: On a try attempt, B2 adds new impetus to a Team A fumble that is recovered in the Team B end zone by Team B.
RULING: Safety, award Team A one point….
Approved Ruling 8-3-2-II: On a try attempt, B2 kicks a Team A fumble into the Team B end zone where Team B recovers while grounded.
RULING: Safety, one point for Team A, or Team A may accept the penalty for illegally kicking the ball … and repeat the down.
Approved Ruling 8-3-2-IX: On a one-point try attempt, Team A’s kick is blocked and B75 recovers at the two-yard line. As B75 attempts to advance, he fumbles and the ball rolls into the end zone, where B61 recovers and is downed.
RULING: Safety. Award Team A one point….
[Edit: The NFL rule changed in 2015.]
The NFL also allows for the one-point safety, but only for the offense. Because play ends on an NFL conversion as soon as the defense gains possession, the only way this really could happen is if the defense batted the ball from the field of play into its own end zone.
NFL Rule 11-3-2-d: If there is no kick, and the Try results in what would ordinarily be a safety against the defense, one point is awarded to the offensive team.
Approved Ruling 11.4: During a Try, placekick holder A1 fumbles. B1 kicks, bats, or muffs the loose ball (new impetus) on his 2 and it goes out of bounds behind the goal line.
Ruling: Ordinarily a safety (11-5-1). Award one point.
Known one-point safeties:
1. Westminster vs. West Liberty State (NAIA Division II), September 7, 1996.
Westminster holder Kevin Freeman fumbled the snap. Abandoning the kick, he rolled to his right, but threw an interception, which Liberty caught on the 1-yard line. The interceptor was immediately tackled, causing a fumble that Liberty recovered in its own end zone.
2. Moorpark College vs. Bakersfield (Junior College), September 21, 1996.
Moorpark kicker Tim Wolleck’s extra point was blocked and recovered by a Bakerfield defender at the 3. The defender retreated into his own end zone, and was tackled there.
3. Hamline (MN) vs. St. Thomas (MN) (Division III), November 11, 2000.
Trailing 13-6 in the 2nd quarter, Hamline’s extra point was blocked. St. Thomas recovered the ball at its own 2, then lateraled back into the end zone where the player was tackled. (Thanks to commenter AHS Class of 1976 Reunion for the tip.)
4. Texas vs. Texas A&M, November 26, 2004.
Texas had just scored a touchdown off a blocked punt to cut Texas A&M’s lead to 13-12 in the 3rd quarter. The snap on the extra point was low and was bobbled by backup holder Matt Nordgren, causing Dusty Mangum’s kick to be blocked. A Texas A&M player picked the ball up but was immediately tackled and fumbled the ball into the end zone, where it was recovered by another Texas A&M player.
5. Oregon vs. Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl), January 3, 2013.
Up 31-10 in the 3rd quarter, Oregon’s extra point was blocked and picked up by Kansas State on its own 2-yard-line. The Kansas State player then retreated into his own end zone where he was tackled.