Commentary: Tips to help make the NFL's Pro Bowl more bearable
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 19:01
Football, like the other major American sports, has its annual all-star game, where the finest players from each conference square off against each other. While many of these other all-star games don’t resemble actual games in effort or competitiveness either, there’s something especially excruciating about the NFL’s Pro Bowl.
The Pro Bowl, which has been around in its current format since 1970, is met with a huge amount of criticism from fans and players every year.
The complete and total lack of defense seems to be one of the primary reasons for criticism. While a shootout in football can be a lot of fun to watch, seeing the best defensive players in the NFL jog and make a minimal effort to actually stop the other team is not very thrilling. With final scores in recent years of 59-41, 55-41, and 41-34, watching long completion after long completion gets very stale.
The defensive players in this game are consistently more concerned with staying healthy and enjoying a vacation in Hawaii than playing well and winning.
Another point of critique is the number of undeserving players. Due to injuries, players opting not to participate, players on Super Bowl-bound teams not being able to play or faulty fan votes, the star power is not always there.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken over the past year about the possibility of the Pro Bowl being eliminated if the quality does not improve. It does not seem likely that the NFL would get rid of this event, however. Even with an 8 percent drop in the ratings in last year’s game, it still drew a 7.9 rating, the highest of any of the all star games, according to USA Today.
Here are some suggestions to spice up the Pro Bowl a little and make the entire event a little more bearable to watch.
1. Saturday events — Much like the NBA and MLB do, make a weekend out of the event. The NBA’s All-Star Saturday, which includes the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout is just as popular as the game itself, while the MLB’s Home Run Derby is a classic fixture of the all-star game. The NFL can pursue a similar tradition, showcasing its best talent. Quarterback accuracy and distance competitions, sprint contests, bench press contests and kicking competitions can all be events that are a lot of fun to watch and show off the best talent the NFL has to offer.
2. NFL awards show — The awards, such as MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc. come out around that time. Why not make a show out of it? This can also take place on the Saturday before the game, immediately following the All-Star events.
3. Rotating locations — It’s understandable that the NFL holds the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii as an incentive for the players to attend, but it’s time to take the show on the road. Following the model of the other sports, the Pro Bowl should be in a different city every year. That would give it a fresh spin every year and would be a thrill for fans to see their hometown players, along with the other stars of the NFL.
4. Move it back to after the Super Bowl — In 2009, the NFL decided to move the date of the Pro Bowl from the weekend before the Super Bowl, instead of the weekend after. This idea did make some sense, as many fans are burned out from football after the season ends. However, it’s pretty easy to assume that some of the best players will be in the AFC and NFC championships. Between the Ravens and 49ers, which will be competing in this year’s Super Bowl, there are 13 players on the Pro Bowl roster who will have to miss the game. That’s just too many stars to have to play the game without.
5. Make it a winner-take-all cash format — This is just to give the players some incentive to actually put some effort in. Currently, there is a small difference in the amount of winnings for the winners compared to the consolation for the losers, but this difference is just a fraction of their total salaries. Add the total amount the NFL would be giving to both the winners and losers, and give it all to the winners. It still wouldn’t be a ton of money for these players, but at the very least it would inspire them to try.
6. No more fan vote — This is a complaint seen in the all-star games of every sport, but there really is absolutely no reason why the starters shouldn’t simply be the players that deserve it. Instead of the flashy, big market names that are being voted into the starting lineup every year by the fans, have a true, unbiased coaches vote to decide who will be representing their conference.
While the Pro Bowl is at the end of the day an exhibition game that will never resemble an actual NFL game, there is no reason why it needs to keep its same awful format. It is not expected that these players give it their all weeks after their season ended, but it would be nice if the NFL at least gives the fans something to enjoy. As long as there’s an NFL logo on it, people will watch, but the league needs to explore ways to reward their loyal fans a little more.