By Brandon Niles Explore Big Sky Sports Columnist
The NFL Pro Bowl, professional football’s All-Star game equivalent, will get a reboot next year after several seasons of scrutiny due to plummeting ratings and general lack of fan interest.
The 2012 game was widely criticized for the players not trying during the game, fans do not regularly watch the contest, and the lack of popularity has threatened its very existence under Commissioner Roger Goodell.
This year, the league threw the first punch at the much-maligned Pro Bowl. The league and the NFL Players Association came to an agreement in recent weeks that will not only change the way the game is played, but will dramatically alter the selection process. The game will no longer have kickoffs or return specialists, due to the high probability of injury during these plays, and there have been several clock changes made to speed up the game. Additionally, defenses will have a wider variety of coverage schemes to choose from, rather than strictly playing man coverage.
The top players at each position will still be selected through voting by fans, coaches and players. However, unlike years past, the players will be placed on their respective Pro Bowl team by draft, rather than the usual AFC-NFC conference split. Two legends of the game (Deion Sanders and Barry Sanders for 2014) will join a pair of fantasy football winners in selecting the Pro Bowl rosters for game day. The draft will be televised on Jan. 22 and the game will be played Jan. 26.
This change might help bring fans in, but I’m concerned about the integrity of the selection process. Will the original selection process remain intact? If so, I might be on board. However, if this is a shift toward fan voting being an even more important factor in selecting the players, then I’m fully against it. The NBA has proven that fan voting is not a fair method for selecting All-Star players, with the selection of an injured Yao Ming to the All-Star game several years ago.
The selection process hasn’t been the problem. The problem has been the lack of interest in the game, which is understandable. Why would the players want to injure themselves in a meaningless game? The solution is to either make the Pro Bowl a game that matters by offering an incentive (perhaps an extra home game the following year or something to that effect), or to scrap the game all together and find something else for the players to do in Hawaii.
I propose a celebrity golf tournament. What would be more entertaining than seeing a foursome of Peyton Manning, Julius Peppers, Adrian Peterson and Snookie playing in a scramble? If the players don’t want to participate in the tournament, they could run concessions for the fans, be caddies or drive the carts. It would be fun for the players, fun for the fans watching the broadcast, keep the fans interacting with the players, and would be much safer for everyone involved. The prize money could go to charity. I would watch every year.
I understand why the NFL wants to change the Pro Bowl, as it hasn’t been very popular and the league exists to make money. However, changing the selection process too dramatically will only add intrigue before the game. To make the spectacle more entertaining without risking the safety of the players, perhaps an alternative activity should be explored.