Thursday, February 3, 2011

Problems With the Pro Bowl (A Bit Late)

This is a familiar topic, so I won’t stay long on any one point. But the Pro Bowl sucks. It’s a joke. Here's what we should do to fix the many, many problems with it.

Problems with the Game

1.  There is no incentive for the players to go out and compete, or enjoy football. Everyone is acutely aware that they’ve been lucky to make it through the season without injury, and no one wants to screw it up at the end. Witness the last touchdown of this latest Pro Bowl, which featured the offensive and defensive lines awkwardly standing around while the play was still going on, not blocking and not rushing.

2. This makes for an absolutely awful entertainment experience. This last Pro Bowl had a final score of 55-41. You’d think that would be an exciting game to watch, particularly between the NFL’s elite athletes. Nope. It’s not good football, and frankly, it’s an embarrassment to the NFL.

Solutions: Eliminate the game altogether. Replace it with contests and drills that pit the players in position groups against one another; most acrobatic catch, playing touch football on the lawn, accuracy contest for QBs, whatever. Contests that are competitive and have little risk of injury would likely get a better performance out of the players. It could be like the NFL combine, but entertaining to watch. Turn the players loose on camera; joke around with them, let them relax. Bring in comedians to act as sideline reporters. Make it fun to watch.

Oh, right.

Problems with the Organization

3. The game was moved last year to in between the AFC/NFC Championship Week and Super Bowl week. This at least gives the NFL some entertainment in the dead time between the games, but excludes the Pro Bowlers on those teams (which is usually quite a few). What was it, ten Packers and Steelers who couldn’t go because of the Super Bowl? That hurts the game’s already low entertainment value.

Solution: Move that shit back to after the Super Bowl.

4. Andrew Brandt, former Packers negotiator and current contributor to the National Football Post, has described the “whisper crews” that hang around the Pro Bowl and tell players how their contracts aren’t big enough, their agents aren’t adequately representing them, how they could be doing so much better. This leads to problems with the teams, who have to deal with their best players coming back home disgruntled and asking for new contracts. After Nick Collins’ first Pro Bowl, he began two and a half years of quietly agitating for a new contract, which only ended this past offseason. And that ends up hurting the NFL’s public image by unnecessarily inflating the biggest player contracts.

Solution: Ban agents from attending the Pro Bowl as anything other then guests, and keep them away from the players. This is damn near impossible to enforce, but at the very least, it’ll have a penalty for the agents that do get caught which might provide some deterrence.

Honestly, who wouldn't like to see Drew Rosenhaus subjected to minor inconvenience?
Problems with the Selection

5. The selection process of the Pro Bowl consists of votes from coaches, players and fans. I can’t speak to the first two, but for the third group of fans, older and more well-established players command a disproportionate amount of the votes. Ray Lewis has made the last two or three Pro Bowls based on reputation alone. It’s not that he’s played badly, necessarily, but from what I understand he’s played pretty average. But he’s a big name, he’s marketable (has nationwide ad campaigns, another perk for well-established players) and he appears on the Sunday Night Football pregame skit. Other, similar cases aren’t hard to find. Packers fans remember Brett Favre making the AFC Pro Bowl despite a league-leading interception total, and Charles Woodson got the spot over Tramon Williams this year on national recognition.

Solution: Make the fan vote count less. Add GMs and scouts-you know, the people who are paid to watch and evaluate talent-to the list as a fourth category, and local beat writers as a fifth. They’re the members of the media most likely to be biased, but they’re also most likely to have an accurate opinion about the merits of the players, since they follow the respective teams as their
We miss you, Bedard!
6. Injury replacements make a mockery of the initial selection of the Pro Bowl. Legitimate injuries do keep players out of the Pro Bowl, but more often then not, players cite injuries that wouldn’t keep them from playing in a regular-season game to bow out of the Pro Bowl. The corollary problem is that quarterbacks who weren’t among the top three selected get to put “Pro Bowl” on their résumés. The combination of the two, again, makes a mockery of the practice of selecting the best players; in 2009, for example, the top three quarterbacks in the AFC-Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady-either bowed out with injuries or went to the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, the first and third alternates, declined due to injury. That left Matt Schaub, Vince Young and David Garrard to represent the AFC. Eight AFC quarterbacks thus received Pro Bowl “honors”. Is that how the best players at a position should be selected?

Solution: Twofold. First, make the top three players the only ones that officially receive Pro Bowl honors. Everyone else gets put on the docket, should they replace injured players, as a first or a second or whatever alternate.

The second part of the solution is more of a general one. Eliminate the pretense that this is a football game along with the game itself. Try a year without an actual game and see what happens. In its place, have skill competitions: who can throw the farthest, who can run and dodge the fastest, who can dunk a basketball. Make it fun. If you do that, I predict you’d see a lot fewer players bowing out due to bogus injury. The NFL doesn't have to mount a huge marketing campaign, but instead of asking players to risk their bodies for a meaningless game, why not sell it as an opportunity to relax and hang out with fellow elite players (in Hawaii no less)?

In place of the football game, have these drills. Play seven-on-seven, because that’s basically what the game is anyway, right? Invite some lucky high school kids out to the Bowl to hang out with NFL players and learn some techniques. Bring some well-known comedians in to host the thing. Make it fun to be in, fun to watch and a good story for the media to cover. High school kids, perhaps underprivileged, hanging out with the people who are the best at their position in the whole world-what’s not to like?

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