The NFLPA has announced that there will be major changes ahead for the Pro Bowl starting in 2014. I'm always quick to check myself after experiencing my initial gut reaction that something sucks, because I find my first impressions yield that sentiment rather often and with time I'm convinced otherwise. My skepticism is at an all time high with these changes, but I'm willing to keep an open mind and take the wait and see approach.
Most significant is that it won't be an AFC vs. NFC thing anymore. Now, it's just two NFL alumni, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, who will draft "All-Stars" to create a 43 man roster. Presumably you have to qualify to be eligible for this "draft", but the two can pick any player from any team otherwise, regardless of conference.
Did it really have to be Rice and Prime Time? Two guys that made their living embarrassing the Saints twice a year for over a decade? And while those two are arguably the best ever at their respective positions, why them? Why not an NFL coach or someone like Steve Gleason and O. J. Brigance? Does this mean 2017 will feature teams picked by Shannon Sharpe and Warren Sapp? Because if so, count me out. I'm also worried this opens the door for small market teams to have very few "all-stars". Instead of going against 15 other teams for a roster spot, New Orleans players will now have to also compete against major markets like New York, Miami, the entire region of New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, Denver and the entire state of Tennessee. I think that makes it tougher on a Saint to make it.
The game will also feature no kick offs, which means no return men make the roster. That's in keeping with the direction I think the NFL may eventually go with regular season games too.
I'm left thinking: who will I root for in this game? The team that has the least amount of Falcons? What if the only Saints to make it are Brees and Graham and they play against each other? How weird would that be? I've never in my life watched a football game and not taken a side and rooted for someone. I'm not sure I could watch this game and genuinely care how the teams do. I'd be watching the game rooting for individual players. I guess that's not all that different from the Pro Bowl now, but there was at least a competitive interest in hoping the NFC would come out on top.
I guess the prospect of one of our defensive players getting one more cheap shot at Matt Ryan is appealing… but that's assuming a defensive player on the Saints' roster would make this game. Yeah, nevermind. It's also assuming Matt Ryan goes, which while more likely is something I'm just not entirely comfortable conceding.
This just seems like a desperate attempt by the NFL to shake things up in a deficient and bad all star game. Let's face it, while the NFL is far superior to the NBA and MLB as a product, but it's All-Star game is grossly behind. The "draft" in particular, which will feature a prime time showcase on the NFL Network, reeks of a ratings plea. Are fans really going to buy into something this silly and tune in? If you gave me the option between an All Star draft and re-runs of Saved by the Bell I'm not sure what I'd pick. The NFL I'm sure is thinking the NFL draft is such an obsessive thing for fans that they can capitalize on something similar. Honestly, the word that captures all of this in my mind is "lame".
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this will be awesome. Maybe this is exactly what the NFL needed to turn the Pro Bowl into something actually worthwhile. Let's face it, the last five years at least the game has been a laughable joke. I'm not sure changing the format of the rosters and who plays with who does anything to improve the quality of the game, though. That's just a desperate attempt at giving fan interest a shot in the arm. As far as the actual game, here are the changes that will potentially improve the viewing experience:
- 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.
Does this make it any better if the players aren't really trying though? Isn't that the crux of the issue to being with? How does this fix anything?