On Tuesday the NBA announced they will be changing the format of the NBA Rookie Challenge All-Star Game. Previously the game featured the NBA’s best rookies vs. sophomores as a precursor to the main All-Star game with the West going up against the East. The game will now be called the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal picking the teams. The NHL did something similar for their All-Star game held on the same weekend as the NFL Pro Bowl. As we all have read, the Pro Bowl game has been chastised by fans, players and even Roger Goodell:
“We’re either going to have to improve the quality of what we’re doing in the Pro Bowl or consider other changes or even considering eliminating the game if that’s the kind of quality game we’re going to provide,” Goodell said.
The NHL All-Star game features a format where the normal conference matchup was replaced by a fantasy draft selected by two captains (NHL players). Fans get the chance to vote for six players from both conferences while the NHL selects 36 players, for a pool of 42 players. The 42 players selected vote for two captains for each All-Star team who draft players for their teams. The NHL first did this in 2011 and repeated it this season with success.
Full disclosure: I have not watched an NFL Pro Bowl game, I don’t think, ever in my life. If I have, it has been a long while because I cannot remember it. Usually I will turn-in after the game to see who won and how 49ers players did in the game. But other than that I have no interest in the Pro Bowl.
When I heard about the NHL’s format I thought it was genius and made me excited for the All-Star game. I am not a huge hockey but after I saw the draft, I did tune-in for some of the game. The different format of how the NHL picked the All-Star teams made me want to watch. When I read today about the NBA’s new All-Star format for the rookie vs. sophomore game, I had the same excitement as the NHL game. So, why can’t the NFL do something similar with the Pro Bowl?
Taking away the Pro Bowl game completely would not be wise, even with most of the NFL die-hard fans not watching no matter how many of their teams players are in the game. It would be weird to see one of the major United States sports organizations not having an All-Star game. The NFL could take a page from both the NHL and NBA when considering changes to the Pro Bowl. Players would still be selected to the Pro Bowl and would receive their free trip to Hawaii they all seem to love. The NFL should have a fantasy type draft similar to the NHL and NBA and have either current players as the captains or even former NFL legends. Fans would get a chance to vote in some of the rookie and second-year players while the Pro Bowl players and NFL select the rest of the roster.
To avoid the issues of this seasons Pro Bowl with players not giving any or little effort, the NFL should have only rookies and second-year players participate in the game. Whoever the captains are can either coach their team or have the option of bringing in a coaching staff of their choosing. The latter option is probably better because it would keep the game from divulging into an all-out scoring fest like we saw two weekends ago. NFL fans love mock and fantasy drafts and to give them a say in who plays in this format would create excitement.
It would be wise for the NFL to bring back the skills competition too. The non-rookie/sophomore Pro Bowlers can participate in the competition skills. With the new Pro Bowl format it would give an opportunity for players to compete in different skills games and not having to worry about playing in the Pro Bowl game. The NFL stopped having the skills competition for some reason in 2007. One lame excuse given was the field where the competition was held no longer exists because the hotel is using it for other purposes. You are telling me a billion dollar a year business cannot pay for or find a suitable field to have the skills competition on? They were really popular with NFL fans before they eliminated it and I think would be hugely popular again if brought back. The skills competitions are exciting, just ask NHL and NBA fans.
Injuries are always a concern at any All-Star game and making the Pro Bowl feature only rookies vs. sophomores would not completely eliminate the lackadaisical play because some would still play cautious. However, with younger players they would take the Pro Bowl more seriously not having to worry about where next seasons contract will come from because they are already signed for the 2012 season. Some people have complained the Pro Bowlers who are not under contact for 2012, do not either want to play or if they had to, do not want to risk a long-term injury by going all-out and jeopardizing their chances of receiving a contract. The new format is worth a try with the commissioner threatening to eliminate the Pro Bowl. At the very least this format change would generate excitement for fans, and who knows, could save the Pro Bowl for years to come.
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