Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fixing the Pro Bowl

In case you weren't aware, the Pro Bowl was played on Sunday. The NFC won that game scoring a lot of points to the AFCs a lot, but not nearly enough points. In the week leading up to the Pro Bowl, the internet was abuzz with people telling us why they wouldn't watch, why the Pro Bowl was a joke, and why the NFL, if it had any self-respect would cancel it. And then, on Sunday, those same people helped earn the Pro Bowl a TV rating equivalent to an NBA finals game. Clearly, the Pro Bowl is a polarizing topic, so let's talk about it, shall we?

My first thought is: who cares? The Pro Bowl is no different from the NBA, NHL, and MLB All-Star games. They aren't, in my mind, meant to be serious replicas of an NFL game. They are, for the most part, held for money and for fans. The first part comes in the form of meet and greets and greased palms with sponsors - not to mention a pretty nice ad revenue take for NBC - while the second is self-explanatory: while everyone complains about the Pro Bowl, they all tune in to see their favorite players in a relaxed setting.

So, do I think the Pro Bowl has to be fixed or canceled? No, I think it serves its purpose just fine as it is, and fans should feel free to watch - or not watch - as it suits them. But, hey, just because things are fine doesn't mean they couldn't be better! So let's fix this *****!

The first thing I'd do in fixing the Pro Bowl is embrace it as a meaningless game. I would do everything I could to entice fans and players to want to be a part of it, but I would do it by making it fun.  You see, unless you decide to create a huge monetary prize for the winners - and I mean significantly large - no one is ever going to play lights out in one of these things for two reasons: 1) they don't want to get hurt and cost themselves millions of dollars and 2) they don't want to hurt someone else, costing one of their fellow players millions of dollars. So make it fun.

How would we do that? I would borrow a page from another sports league: the NHL. I would tell all players that you have to be in or out of the Pro Bowl by 10 pm ET on Conference Championship Sunday. This gives Tom Brady enough time to lose and still pull out [note: along with this rule, I would also add that you have to play in the Pro Bowl to be considered a Pro Bowler. No more bowing out and still getting the honor. I realize that this would hurt some people who miss the Pro Bowl for honest reasons, but it would also put an end to people with no respect for the game and fans getting rewarded. Only exception: players playing in the Super Bowl]. On Monday, I would toss a bone to the red headed step children of NFL broadcasting, ESPN. The two highest Pro Bowl vote-getters - let's just pretend that they were Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck this year - would become Captains of their own team.

So on the Monday Night after the Conference Championship Games, ESPN would broadcast the Pro Bowl draft.  The highest vote-getter would pick first (Team Manning) and Team Luck would go second, and they would rotate until they had an entire roster. You would mandate that they could only pick a certain number of players at each position so that the rosters were fairly balanced.

And then we'd have our week of practice. Without coaches. I mean, come on, who cares what the coaches think anyway, right? In my Pro Bowl, the players would be the coaches. And the Captains don't have to be the coaches - although who wouldn't want to see Manning ordering people around - they can appoint coaches if they so desire.

Saturday morning, we would have "Fan Meet and Greets" - where fans could get pictures and autographs from their favorite players. I know, this is actually the most unrealistic part of my plan - fans getting free pictures and autographs? Well, is it really free? After all, these fans paid to fly to and stay in Hawaii, so these pictures and autographs cost them a pretty penny.

On Saturday night, we would bring back the old skills competitions - again, ESPN would get the broadcast rights. The players would be split up into their teams and they would compete in a plethora of drills that showed off everything that makes us marvel at athletes: their speed, quickness, agility, strength.

On Sunday, I would tell them to Brett Favre it - "just have fun out there, boys!"  Want to celebrate every play? Go ahead! Want to pull a sharpie out of your socks? Do it! Want to fraternize with the cheerleaders? Encouraged only if we can get a special "Cinemax Camera" sponsorship. But don't take yourself or the game too serious. Score a lot of points, show off your personalities, have fun. I would also look for ways to get social media more involved in the game - I love when fans are able to call the plays from their couch.

At the end of the game, one team will likely have scored a lot and the other team will have likely scored a lot, but not nearly enough to win. Would it matter? No, but it doesn't have to. Sometimes you can just play for the love of the game. Or, God forbid... fun.

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