The fans practically begged the NFL to make some adjustments to the Pro Bowl so it’s actually watchable. Finally, it seems, Roger Goodell and his team received the message. Today in a joint statement, the NFL and NFLPA announced a revamped Pro Bowl is coming our way as soon as this season. But will the changes help or hurt the game?
One of the biggest changes is related to player selection. Instead of the usual “AFC versus NFC” format, rosters will be shaped through a draft, much like the NHL does. Fans, players, and coaches will vote for the players they feel are most deserving of Pro Bowl honors. The Wednesday before the Pro Bowl, January 22, a group of six which includes the two leading vote getters, two NFL.com fantasy football champions, and two Hall of Famers, Deion Sanders and Emmit Smith, will draft players and build two evenly matched teams. As for coaches, they’ll be selected among the losing teams in the AFC and NFC Divisional playoffs with the best regular-season record. After the teams are formed on Wednesday, they will participate in practice on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday leading up to the Pro Bowl on Sunday, January 26.
In addition to those changes, we can also expect these rule changes to the actual game:
»Game within the Game: A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters and the ball will change hands after each quarter. This will increase the opportunities for quarterbacks to direct “two-minute drills,” which are especially exciting for fans.
»No Kickoffs: The coin toss will determine which team is awarded possession first. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays.
»Rosters: The rosters will continue to consist of 43 players per squad. The kick return specialist will be replaced by an additional defensive back.
» Cover Two and Press Coverage: The defense will be permitted to play “cover two” and “press” coverage. In previous years, only “man” coverage was permitted, except for goal-line situations.
» Stopping of the Game Clock: Beginning at the two-minute mark of every quarter, if the offense does not gain at least one yard, the clock will stop as if the play were an incomplete pass. This rule will make the team with the ball attempt to gain yardage toward the end of each quarter.
»Game Timing: The game clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee, except inside the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
» Play Clock: A 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.
» Sacks: The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the game. Currently, the game clock stops in these situations outside of two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
I appreciate the NFL acknowledging its product isn’t flawless and putting forth the effort to improve it, but I’m not sure this does it for me. Before I get into the negatives of the new format, I will admit allowing AFC and NFC players to play together could be exciting. Seeing Tom Brady hookup with Calvin Johnson is a sweet visual, but beyond that I don’t see much upside.
Roger Goodell’s been gunning for a no kickoff rule for sometime now and I see he finally worked that into a meaningless game. Point for him. However, while a no kickoff rule might reduce the possibility of player injuries, eliminating kickoffs also removes one of the most exciting parts of the game.
Inherently, the NFL is a dangerous and physical sport. The effort by Pro Bowlers is already lacking for fear of injuries. Couple that with the softening of the rules and fans are still left with a barely watchable game. I by no means want players to risk life and limb in a pointless exhibition game, but players putting forth real energy, and not just within the two minute mark, essentially is the only thing that will make the Pro Bowl enjoyable to watch. If the proposed solution is to continue to ask NFL players to participate in a watered down version of a real NFL game, fans will never be satisfied. Also, the Pro Bowl is still scheduled to take place one week before the Super Bowl. As a result, it doesn’t address the issue of some of the league’s best players on two of the best teams being excluded from the game. Still.
Overall, I think it’s a lose lose situation for the league and its fans. This season, the league will probably experience a bump in ratings from fans tuning in for no reason other than curiosity. But once the novelty wears off, I doubt the NFL will have repeat success if they continue to move forward with the same format.
Since I don’t watch the Pro Bowl to begin with, I wouldn’t be mad if they cancelled it altogether. This was an option strongly considered by the NFL. However, the league received too much push back from the NFLPA because a lot of player incentives are tied to Pro Bowl appearances. Until the NFLPA and NFL agree on a compromise that allows players to still get “Pro Bowl” bonuses without having an actual Pro Bowl, they’ll continue to force this game, which is the opposite of what NFLPA Dominique Foxworth calls the “ultimate fan-friendly celebration,” upon us.
But what do you think? Tell me, will the NFL’s new format and rules make you more excited to watch the game?