On Wednesday the NFL announced a bunch of big changes to the format of the annual AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. The biggest of these changes? It will no longer be the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. From now on the rosters will be selected via voting irrespective of conference, meaning you could theoretically have an entire game roster made of players from the NFC. The two teams will be selected via a fantasy-style draft with famous ex-players acting as captains.
Beyond this major format shift there will be some big changes to the rules. The biggest is the elimination of kickoffs (a move that will eliminate kickoff returner as a Pro Bowl position). There will also be some gimmicky stuff introduced including a two-minute warning at the end of every quarter with the team holding the ball at the end having to give it up at the beginning of the next quarter. Essentially this turns every end-of-quarter into an end-of-half situation. An artificial way of introducing more “exciting” two-minute-drill situations into the game.
More rule changes include: Defenses being allowed to play Cover-2 and press in addition to man coverage (but still no blitzing). Tweaks to the way the clock will run. A 35-second/25-second play clock being adopted instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.
Fans I imagine will be pretty excited about the fantasy draft format for picking teams. It does introduce a fun new wrinkle and will drum up interest at least the first time around. I suggested yesterday on Twitter – snarkily – that the league should take the next logical step and eliminate regular scoring in favor of fantasy point scoring. So instead of having touchdowns and field goals, the team that has its players rack up the most fantasy points would actually win.
I was being snarky but now that I look at it, that might not be a terrible thing to seriously try. In all honesty though, what will these changes do to really improve the game? Will it stop being a silly exhibition with guys running around out there at half-speed just trying not to get hurt?
And what about the biggest issue concerning the Pro Bowl, the one big thing that ruins it every year? I’m talking about the issue of star players not showing up. That is the main problem with the Pro Bowl. As long as guys like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are just going to skip the game, it is going to be missing much of its star power and therefore much of its interest.
The NFL could try something really radical like fining guys for not showing up unless legitimately injured. But that would not sit very well with the NFLPA and anyway how would you go about determining the legitimacy of injuries? By that point of the year every player is technically injured. Every player in the Pro Bowl could probably bow out with injury and have it be legit.
Fact is, there is no real way to address the issue of players ducking the game. And with more and more money being on the line for these guys with each passing year? There will be more and more guys bowing out. That’s reality. And that’s why, realistically, the Pro Bowl can never be truly improved. Introduce all the gimmicks you want in choosing rosters and trying to spruce up the game action. It will still remain the lamest and most boring of all All-Star exhibitions.