In recent years, the NFL has had trouble attracting attention to the Pro Bowl. In 2010, the league moved it from after the Super Bowl to the weekend between the Super Bowl and the Conference championships. While this move does attempt to bring more relevancy to the game by sandwiching it between the two highest watched NFL weekends, it still garners lower ratings than most regular season games. The NFL also moved to a “draft” system this year, much like the NHL and the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge. While the issue of star players not wanting to injure themselves is an inherent flaw of the Pro Bowl, the NFL can change the format of Pro Bowl weekend to at least make it viable (Roger Goodell reportedly was very close to cancelling the Pro Bowl this year).
Disclaimer: I am only a small-time writer with a complete lack of common sense and practical knowledge. Please do not attempt to file a lawsuit against me if you do not like my proposal.
(Editor’s Note: This beats the hell out of last year’s Poor Scholars Pro Bowl coverage.)
The NBA routinely has one of the most successful All-Star weekends out of the 4 major American sports. The MLB, NFL, and NHL have struggled at times to keep their games relevant. However, the NBA’s unique all-star structure seems to be the most effective out of the four. In an attempt to boost ratings and awareness for the Pro Bowl, I contend that the NFL should create a Pro Bowl Weekend that consists of 3 major events: the Rookies vs. Sophomores game, the Skills Challenge, and the Pro Bowl. This format would create more excitement for the Pro Bowl by building up to it over the weekend.
Rookies vs. Sophomores Game
Much like the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge, this game would pit the current year’s rookies against second year players. Since many talented young players don’t make the Pro Bowl in lieu of established stars, this game would allow the future of the NFL to gain more national exposure. The Rookie team would be composed of the Pro Football Writer’s Association All-Rookie team. The sophomore team would be created by 25% weighted online fan vote and a 75% weighted coach vote (which would occur before Week 17 of the regular season to avoid coach vacancies). Any rookies or sophomores participating in the Pro Bowl or Super Bowl would not be eligible to play in the game, but rookies would still be eligible for the All-Rookie designation. Any spots left vacant by Pro Bowl or Super Bowl participants would be filled by selection of the commissioner. The Rookies vs. Sophomores game would take place on the Friday night of Pro Bowl Weekend and would share rules with the Pro Bowl.
The Skills Challenge would be analogous to a combination of the NBA’s Skills Challenge, Dunk Contest, and Three-Point Contest. Obviously, NFL players won’t be shooting threes or dunking (unless you’re Jimmy Graham), but the general idea is that players would compete against each other in different areas. The event would be divided up into two categories (physical and skill) with four challenges for each. Physical challenges would include the 40 yard dash (Chris Johnson vs Devin Hester, anyone?), bench press, vertical jump, and an agility course. Skill challenges would include passing and receiving drills as well as punting and kicking challenges. The Skills Challenge would take place on Saturday afternoon.
The NFL just changed the format of the Pro Bowl this year to a draft format, so it is probably not worth changing it again for this article. The new draft format does provide some excitement for the game, but the core issue of star players being injured (resulting in a game with different rules and “soft” play) is the most difficult to fix. Like any other All-Star game, the score will be high as the players try to have fun and avoid injury. For my Pro Bowl Weekend proposal, the anchor of the weekend will remain untouched as the NFL tries out its new draft format. Two NFL legends are selected to be the “captains” of their respective teams. Then, through a combination of fan voting and coach voting, a pool of Pro Bowlers is selected. The players are then divided into the two teams during a “draft” during the conference championship week.