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The Pro Bowl sucks. Let’s fix it

The NFL is trying to fix the Pro Bowl. Here are three suggestions.

NFL Pro Bowl Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Pro Bowl sucks. I know it, you know it, the players know it, and the NFL knows it. Without question the Pro Bowl is the worst all-star game in professional sports, and it’s time to make a change.

After years of tepid, boring football, the NFL is finally looking to try something different with the annualized pointless affair — though it’s unclear at this time whether they’ll actually find any changes that can be compelling.

That last point is the where this all comes into play: What are the alternatives? In the spirit of not offering criticism without a suggestion I’ve come up with three ways we can actually fix the Pro Bowl.

Obviously if I had my druthers we’d turn the Pro Bowl into a giant game of NFL Blitz with 30 yard downs, unlimited forward passes and everyone being an eligible receiver in RPO offenses. That would be fun as hell, but I know the NFL is far too serious to allow something that wild to happen, so we might as well scratch that off the list. Instead I want to focus on some real changes that could be made in order to make the Pro Bowl more compelling and modifications the NFL might actually adopt.

No. 1: Move it to the middle of the season

One of the biggest issues with the Pro Bowl as it stands is that we don’t get to see the best players compete. All season long we’re conditioned to believe we know the must-watch athletes of the league, then they make the playoffs and either skip the event all together because of the Super Bowl, or choose to bow out because their season is over and there’s nothing to play for.

With the NFL expanding the regular season it simply makes sense to throw in a second bye week, one shared by every team in the league. Make it Week 8, pressure the best players in the NFL to actually play the game and suddenly we can get something people actually want to see — not just a week to do some yard work or cleaning ahead of the Super Bowl.

The issue remains: How do we get players to actually want to compete in this thing? Which brings us to ...

No. 2: Add some stakes to this game

This is a place MLB has it right when it comes to their All Star game. Dangling the carrot of home field advantage in the World Series is a very solid prize that incentives the teams to actually care about the game itself.

With the NFL it’s obviously very different. A one-off game in the Super Bowl changes the dynamic a lot, but there’s some nuance we can play with here too. I’m not an expert on how we can balance the NFL by adding stakes to the Pro Bowl, but here are some ideas I had:

  • The winning conference in the Pro Bowl gets to decide whether to kick or receive if there’s overtime in the Super Bowl.
  • The winning conference gets to play its non-conference opponents at home in the following season.
  • Teams from the winning conference get compensatory 4th round draft picks in the upcoming draft.
  • Teams from the winning conference get $5M bonuses to their salary cap for the upcoming season.

None of these ideas are perfect, but making the game count for something is integral in ensuring people want to watch.

No. 3: We get rid of the whole AFC vs. NFC thing all together

I do not know a single person who gives a rat’s ass about AFC or NFC glory. It’s an old pre-merger hangover that really isn’t relevant anymore, outside of settling the final teams in the Super Bowl.

Even then, nobody has any honor or care for the rest of their conference. So why are we pretending that AFC vs. NFC is a thing? In my opinion the world sports league who has NAILED the All Star game is the NRL, Australia’s rugby league. Instead of a traditional contest among the best players, rugby players take a break to take part in a three game tournament mid-season called the “State of Origin.” I’ve written about this in the past, and it’s such a genius concept.

Instead of worrying about who plays professional ball where, this goes back to which of Australia’s two major rugby states a player was born in: New South Wales or Queensland. It’s the biggest rivalry in rugby and sees teams torn apart to complete for their place of birth, rather than their professional club.

Obviously it’s more difficult here, but with a little work I think you could make a fair 25 state split, or even divide up the USA by east and west, based on where players were born. If this seems too difficult you could take another page out of rugby league’s book as do “city vs. country,” pulling players who grew up in metropolitan areas, and putting them against pros from rural areas.

Hell, you could even divide up players by college for the ultimate dose of nostalgia.

Essentially any split would be better than AFC vs. NFC and give something for fans to care about.

I know the NFL has a vested interest in making the Pro Bowl popular. It’s ridiculous that the biggest sport in America has the worst All Star game by a mile. I know there are concerns about injury or over-work, but the league seemingly had no problem increasing the number of regular season games anyway. At least in this scenario we’d be talking about giving the vast majority of the league an additional bye week, with only the stars competing.

Literally any suggestion is better than what we have now, and I believe we can fix the Pro Bowl.