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.

Fixing the Pro Bowl

As we invest some time in articles for the main site, I wanted to comment on the Pro Bowl. The MLB All-Star game was last week, prompting many talking heads to complain about this or that and say it needs to be fixed in a variety of ways. Let’s be clear about something, the MLB All-Star Game is far and away the best of the all star games. It’s the most historical, the most fun to watch, and you are GUARANTEED that a player from your favorite team is playing. Some pundits hate that rule, but growing up, I loved it. Why watch an All-Star game if not to see guys from your team. Even when the Reds were bad, I loved knowing that they were going to have an all star. The HR derby is so vastly superior to the slam dunk contest that it barely merits mention. The HR derby involves stars, the dunk contest involves no-names and rookies no one knows. Jordan and Wilkins are not coming back people. Give it up.

The main problem in the Pro Bowl is that it takes place after the Super Bowl. Some players have been off for a month. Most guys just want not to get hurt. There is no real crowd to speak of. Someone might get hurt. If you want to fix the pro bowl I suggest the following:

1. Reduce the pre-season to 3 games and extend the regular season to 17 games. The 17th game would be a permanent inter conference rivalry game. Broken down thusly:

Colts and Bears
Ravens and Redskins
Jets and Giants
Patriots and Packers
Jacksonville and Atlanta
Miami and Tampa
Steelers and Eagles
Cleveland and Detroit
Cincinnati and Carolina
Titans and St. Louis
Texans and Cowboys
Kansas City and New Orleans
Raiders vs 49ers
San Diego vs Arizona
Denver vs Seattle
Buffalo and Minnesota
Each year these teams would play during the 17th and final game of the season.

2. Schedule the Pro Bowl at a rotating site during after week 9. All teams, minus pro-bowlers would take a mandatory 5 day vacation (no practice, no work outs). This would help with injuries during the season and hopefully counter balance any injuries that might occur during the game. The game would take the place of the pointless and irritating week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

3. The conference that won the Pro Bowl would win home field advantage for week 17. If the AFC wins the Pro Bowl, all the AFC teams would host the extra game. The gate, including luxury boxes sales for the final game, would be split equally, but it would provide real motivation for the squads to try and win the game. It wouldn’t affect playoff positioning within the conference because all teams would have the same number of home games.

The Pro Bowl would instantly vault in to one of the most watched games of the sports year. There would be tremendous buzz and excitement around it. Each team having a guaranteed game with a geographic rival would be tremendous for the league as well. I realize that a couple of the matchups are forced, but most of them are tremendous games that only take place once every 4 years these days (unless you count the pre-season, which I don’t because pre-season football sucks).

So there you have it, a revitalized Pro Bowl, a better preseason, and a yearly Colts/Bears show down. What could be better?