The Pro Bowl Conundrum | June 10, 2012
This past week it was announced by the NFL that the pro bowl will be once again taking place. It will continue to be the week before the Superbowl as it has been for the past few years and will be held in Hawaii. The announcement follows weeks of debate over whether the game should go ahead with both Goodell and the players giving varying opinions on the event.
Last year’s Pro Bowl was, in many people opinions, a farce. There could be boos heard in the very first series of the game, with lineman just standing up after the snap and defenders making no effort to pressurise the quarterbacks on either side. Yes there were big entertaining plays by the receivers but too many times they were left running virtually unchallenged down the field allowing them to focus on making these spectacular plays. The game was not a contest in terms of offense vs defence it was just an exhibition for big arms and fast runners. Of course, the league is happy to promote all of this, but it was all taken to an extreme, and has become apparent that crowds enjoy a good defensive struggle nearly as much as high scoring ‘track meet’.
The players love the event and the prospect of it being called off had many of them coming out saying that they still wanted it. It is clear why they still want the event because it is a week for them to take their families and friends, many of whom have come from very unprivileged backgrounds, on an all-expenses paid holiday. In addition, they get to practice with the top players from there conference and try out fun trick plays which they would never be able to do in a million years for their teams.
The most obvious solution is to just let the game carry on and as long as the fans keep coming and the channels keep covering it then this is what will more than likely happen but the players have to up the effort and make it a bit more of a game. Of course no one wants to see anybody hurt during an all-star game but there has to be a happy medium where the defensive players at least look like they are trying to prevent easy passes and catches. This will not be easy because playing ¾ speed is often more likely to end in injury than full speed because players will not tackle and wrap up properly which could lead to injuries the same as if the game was played full speed.
The alternative is that they keep the week how it is but they make it into a weekend rather than just one game. Obviously with football a skills show, like the dunk contest and the home run derby, is not really feasible but there is a way the NFL could keep an element of competition and get the fans to potentially show interest and have a routing interest. This could be done by having an 8 a side flag football tournament with each of the 6QBs selected choosing a squad of players consisting of the other selected pro bowlers.
The games could be 15 minutes with each drive starting at the 30 yard line and playing standard rules from there. There would be no special teams so every time the teams would have to go for a touchdown and then the two point play to follow up from that. This would allow the fans to get behind the team their favourite players are in and buy the shirts, generating revenue for the NFL. Two games could be played at once so the whole stadium could be filled with each team playing one another in a round robin format leading to a semi-final and then a final.
To make the event take a full weekend the selection of the players could be performed on the Friday night, giving them the week before to practice as a big group and then the Saturday to practice as individual teams. To include the kickers/punters in the weekend there could be a competition for each of them, the kickers facing off in a field goal knockout competition with the distance increasing each round and then punters competition being them kick for targets on the field with points for their accuracy. The weekend could then be rounded off on the Sunday with the tournament and although there will be no big hits there will be a greater element of offense vs defence and with prize money and league wide (including inter-franchise) bragging rights up for grabs the level of play should be high.
Of course for this to work the Pro Bowl weekend would need to be at a different time to what it currently is as you would want the superbowl players involved to make the tournament as high quality as possible so it would either need to be just after the season or during the offseason (potentially a month after the draft) when football fans are most in need of their football fix.