Fixing What Is Broken: An In-Depth Look At Reviving The Pro Bowl

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IIJanuary 27, 2010

So let’s be real here; the current way that the Pro Bowl is run is pathetic. As it stands, the once hallowed tradition is now a shell of its former self. Though the original roster size was slated to be 80, the number has gone on to include 103 "official" members of the National Football Conference and American Football Conference 2010 Pro Bowl squads. This is in addition to the fact that there were countless "snubs" or just flat out wrong choices for players to begin with. Not to mention the erroneous decision to move the game to before the Super Bowl.

I'll admit it. I used to love the Pro Bowl. Early in my Steelers fan career, it was common practice to see Bill Cowher coaching on the sidelines because he bungled away a chance at the Super Bowl, only to coach in its unsavory cousin. Not to mention the Steelers would constantly send four or five players to Hawaii, meaning that this was my last chance to see the players for months seeing as how I lived in Kansas.

Despite what a lot of people may think, the Pro Bowl does matter. It's the last chance for fans—especially the little guy or casual one—to see their favorite players in a "meaningful" game for seven months. It's a chance for the die-hard fan to do the exact same thing.  The Pro Bowl is also meant to be a representation of the truly elite players for that respective year, and as a result often finds itself as a measure to determine Hall of Fame candidacy.

With the last notion there is a huge problem. How can something so important attribute some of its basis on an obviously broken system? After all, Vince Young has as many Pro Bowl selections as Aaron Rodgers. Maybe Vince was right when he said he would be a "Hall of Fame Quarterback"? With all of these problems, I feel that it is the duty of the fans to try and find a solution.  After some thorough brainstorming, this is what I have come up with in hopes that a Pro Bowl Committee would be formed to enforce these rules.



The premier problem with the Pro Bowl obviously falls in place due to the method in which players are selected to participate. Every year there is controversy to the 80 selections because there are often “snubs”, players that get in on name alone, a hot start to the season, or fan base saturation of voting. As a result I have proposed four options to fix the voting portion of the problem.

Voting Option No. 1

The first option deals with what many people view as the primary reason for the Pro Bowl’s failure: fan voting. My proposed solution to this is a “Football I.Q. Test” in which a fan must display that they are not voting for the “wrong” reasons. With this test, I propose a potential 500 questions, of which 15 are asked prior to voting. If the potential voter does not receive a passing mark of at least 12 out of 15, then they are not eligible to vote.

The questions encompassing the “Football I.Q. Test” would range widely from ones such as “X player is the current league leader in yards from scrimmage” to “True/False: X team has played Y team this year?” In order to prevent simple cheating through opening other tabs or browser windows, there would be a timer with a countdown. Sure this may not be “fair” to the average Joe attempting to vote, but if they care enough to vote they should care enough to be informed, right?

Voting Option No. 2

The second option is what I have entitled “Division Specific Voting”. A common rebuttal that people who defend the current system of fan voting make is that they count for a mere 33 percent of the vote. They often retort that “66 percent of the vote comes from coaches and players and they know more than you and therefore the selections must be correct.”

I love to toot my horn for as much as I know, but even I will admit that coaches and players probably know more than 99.99 percent of NFL Fans, myself included. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them correct. Why? Well it’s quite simple actually. In fact it's because they may not have a reason to vote for a player on anything other than reputation, just like a fan.

You probably know that the NFL schedule is set up so that each of the four inter-conference divisions face one another in the regular season once every four years. Therefore if the NFC West is playing the AFC South that respective year, they are unaware of what a player counterpart in the three other AFC divisions is doing. If they are unaware of how that player is doing, what is to stop them from voting based on what that player did the previous year? How about voting on a highlight or two they might have seen after their game on ESPN? This is why I propose “Division Specific Voting.”

Under this proposition, players can only choose to vote for one of the 12 players that they have faced throughout the course of the regular season. Therefore, left tackles can only vote for players that have lined up against them such as 3-4 outside linebackers, 4-3 defensive ends, and 4-3 defensive tackles. Cornerbacks would only be capable of voting for the 12 to 24 or so wideouts that they have lined up against that respective year. If a player is truly having a season worthy of recognition, then they will receive the most votes than players who played common opponents. I feel as if this would eliminate any flaws with player voting.

Voting Option No. 3

The third option is to move the voting period from early in the season to late in the season. Sure this may cause trouble for tabulating votes for the Pro Bowl committee, but shouldn’t the quality of the game be the most important aspect? What would probably be the most opportune time for voting would be from Week 12 or 13 of the regular season to the Wednesday after the regular season finale.

This proposition would eliminate the “early boomer” problem in which players start the season hot and leave the competition in the dust, only to crash to reality and eventually have inferior seasons to players that get snubbed. The hype surrounding their early season success is perfect for the early season voting to catapult them into a Pro Bowl. However, with my proposal, a hot start that is mired by a drastic cool down would be heavily more considerable.

This is because the voter would be aware of who is having a better total season as opposed to a better start to the season. Sure a player may have been better from weeks one through 11, but last I checked there are 17 weeks in the regular season. Under the current system the player that does best from weeks one through 11 would earn a berth while their counterpart might end up having superior weeks 12 through 17 but get snubbed. Should not an entire body of work be considered? Last I checked, the Pro Bowl is supposed to reward a player for their season, not their first 12 weeks.

Voting Option No. 4

The last option falls on the shoulders of the aforementioned Pro Bowl Committee. This potential committee would have power of supremacy in all the Pro Bowl proceedings. This selection of men and women would be given the right to veto poor selections in the eyes of the general public such as Jay Cutler over Philip Rivers in 2007. They would also be given the right to add additional selections that might have had amazing seasons at a strong position such as LaDainian Tomlinson in 2003 when the AFC had four amazing halfbacks and only three spots.

This committee with this kind of power would prevent atrocities to players such as London Fletcher, who has never had a non-Pro Bowl caliber season, and Fred Taylor, who had several Pro Bowl caliber seasons, from never reaching the Pro Bowl without it becoming a result of sympathy and players dropping out of the game.

This proposed committee would also prevent the most annoying aspect of Pro Bowl voting: fan saturation of votes. Teams hovering around or at .500 like the 2008 Jets should not have the most Pro Bowlers and post-season teams like the 2009 Bengals shouldn’t have zero Pro Bowlers. Obviously something wrong is occurring in the fan voting if this happens, and if this continues to happen beyond my proposition for fan voting this would negate that problem.


The Event

The second problem with the Pro Bowl is that after all of the problems leading up to it, there is no real spectacle about the event. In the 90s when the Pro Bowl was at its peak, there was more than just the game. There were several interesting events that occurred on the Friday and Saturday before the game that made the event interesting for the players and the fans that weren’t in Hawaii.

Let’s be honest here: Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association don’t compare to the National Football League. Great sports, but they’re not as highly watched, nor are they as entertaining. Football is now our national past time. Despite this, their All-Star Weekends draw superior ratings to the NFL’s because they have more than just the game. The NFL has seemingly dropped the skills contests or just choose not to heavily advertise them. As a result there are three propositions for fixing the event.

Event Option No. 1

Option one is to better emphasize that the players participate in the Pro Bowl competitions as well as the game itself. Countless times, players invent an injury that wasn’t listed during or after their final game in order to simply not go. The Pro Bowl is meant to be a spectacle for the fans more so than any other game, the Super Bowl included. It doesn’t work if the fans end up getting David Garrard and Vince Young playing in the game because a superior player doesn’t feel like playing.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has done an excellent job in his short time running the league. A few things that he has been known for are listening to the fans and enforcing fines on the players for unprofessional behavior.

I’m sure that most fans feel robbed out of a good experience when the Pro Bowl isn’t comprised of that season’s best talent. Mr. Goodell, why not enforce harsh fines on players for not participating in the game for illegitimate reasons? Surely it is “unprofessional” for them to do so, right?

Why not an over-the-top fine such as a game check or two, or a loss of any incentives in their contract? Especially those for being nominated to the Pro Bowl! In contrast to this, players should be rewarded with more than a few thousand dollars for merely showing up and a few more thousand dollars for winning. Thousands of dollars on the early side of double digits is chump change to these guys.

Event Option No. 2

Option two is the proposition of skills competitions for “every“ position. They existed in the past and drew in big numbers. Placing them on national television and advertising them as much as they have advertised the game this year would help dramatically. The skills competitions did dwindle in the past so therefore there needs to be new ones that differ from those of the past. I am sure that the “best” minds the NFL have to offer can come up with some competitions, if not the players themselves.

In order to draw the interest of players, there needs to be monetary awards on top of the de facto bragging rights of winning the competition. I know that I have proposed monetary compensation for participation a lot but the mark of the NFL is currently money; it is why a lot of players are viewed as divas. On top of this, the competitions should be used to determine who is starting and who is getting what amount of playing time based on standings in the competition.

Competing for playing time would result in the players actually trying to win said competitions for reasons other than money. If the voting process is handled correctly, the correct players are playing and the fall off from the “best” at a position that year to the fourth best shouldn’t be drastic and fans would not feel slighted based on who gets the most playing time.

The quarterback competition could include a three stage obstacle course testing pocket presence, accuracy and arm strength. The wide receiver and tight end competition could include the juggs machine gauntlet and tough/sideline/circus catch opportunities. The halfback competition could include the carrying gauntlet, pass protection drills, and evasion drills. If I can come up with semi-coherent competitions I sure the best the league has to offer could.

Event option No. 3 

Option three involves a couple more events separate from the game itself. The second day of what would be entitled “Pro Bowl Weekend” would be a special game day featuring two games. The first game would be one featuring cheerleaders and appealing to the more casual fan where as the second game would feature an appeal to the more die-hard and more ingrained fans.

The first game, or “Cheerleader Game” would involved the Pro Bowl cheerleaders that are chosen to represent each team being coached up by past legends. The game would be a flag football game and as it involves cheerleaders, it would appeal to the casual fan via sex appeal. In fact, if athletic women playing seven-on-seven flag football isn’t interesting enough alterations could be made to make the game appear more like “Extreme Football” or MTV’s “Rock ‘n Jock” game and involve the mascots in some way or another.

The latter of the two games would be the more serious game and takes some of its inspiration from the “Beach Bowl” game that used to be played involving former Pro Bowlers that are retired and active Pro Bowlers. The game would be called the “Past-Present-Future” game in which the teams play seven-on-seven football with each team featuring at least three retired former conference Pro Bowlers, three current Pro Bowlers, and three rookies that had impressive seasons. Like the cheerleading game, there could be alterations to make the game more watchable, though with that kind of exposure I don’t think it needs much more.


The Game

So after two afternoons of fun and interesting events that weren’t the main attraction it is only right that the game supplant both of these in terms of entertainment, right? I mean let’s be honest, the Pro Bowl has watered down offenses and defenses. On top of that the overwhelming majority of players don’t go full speed while the announcers patronize us telling us how “these guys truly care about the paycheck difference.” As a result the game is boring and bland. So I have three key points proposed to actually fix the game.

Game Option No. 1

Option one is to fix the gameplay of the “big” game. We understand that a player getting injured in a meaningless game would raise all kinds of hell but let’s be real here; a player could be injured falling over their dog at home. A true athlete should embrace the ability to go up against opposition that is at the top of their game and not hindered by ridiculous rules. We are told that these rules are to protect players while offering the best potential one-on-one matchups across the board but that is simply not true.

In case you were unaware of the current rule set for the Pro Bowl, they state that offenses cannot make use of motion. Additionally they cannot have trips receiver sets. However, they do have one rule in which they favor the offense; Quarterbacks can throw it away without getting an intentional grounding rule.

On the defensive side of the ball, teams must employ a very vanilla look. They must line up in a 4-3 alignment and cannot use stunts to create confusion. In said 4-3 alignment, no player other than defensive linemen may cross the line of scrimmage on a passing play(i.e. blitz). In the secondary, cornerbacks cannot play bump-and-run style coverage and dime and quarter packages cannot be utilized.

I can understand that not wanting to send linebackers or playing in a 3-4 alignment is viewed as a method to protect quarterbacks, but let’s be real here. If the quarterback can merely intentionally ground any ball in which he’s in danger why not just allow him to do that? Additionally, why not enforce the ridiculous over-the-top hit rules that the NFL has begun to enforce this season? That would most certainly protect quarterbacks regardless of whether or not 3-4 linebackers could pass rush or defensive ends could stunt inside.

Another way in which dropping these asinine rules would help protect player safety is by not limiting what the offense can do in terms of formations. If a realistic offense is called, than the defense has no choice but to utilize the correct personnel. If the offense utilized trips receivers bunch than the defense would probably utilize dime or quarter packages.

Allowing cornerbacks to press at the line would merely allow true Pro Bowlers like Darrelle Revis and Charles Woodson to play their real style against the truly elite like Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson.

In the end the Pro Bowl should have a special set of rules, but not the ones currently employed. There should be no possibility of Intentional Grounding in order to protect the quarterbacks. Receivers and defensive backs that are in the air count as “defenseless” unless the other player plays the ball. This should prevent the potential for upending and “hard hits”.

For battles in the trenches, the current rule of two-player engagements should be separated into two parts. The first part dictates that there can be no double teams in the trenches and secondly that there is absolutely no clipping/chop blocking. Finally, in order to prevent halfbacks and defenders from spinal cord and head injuries, players must be able to see what their hitting. Players cannot lower their head but must lower their shoulder in order to try and initiate contact or make a tackle.

Game Option No. 2

Option two is to give the game a meaning beyond a simple paycheck for these players. I realize the irony here in that I have constantly suggested cash incentives throughout this article, but if the game means something players would most certainly be inclined to participate and fans to watch. Honestly, we cannot make home-field advantage in the Super Bowl an option here but we most certainly can find something else to make the game meaningful.

A potential award for the victor could be supplemental picks for all the teams in the conference with a representative in the game. Another possibility is that the conference-winning post-season teams could receive better draft positioning than the losing team’s post-season teams regardless of record.

Another incentive could be that the winning conference gets preference for primetime games. Why not make it so that the winning conference determines whether the Super Bowl x years from now is placed in an NFC or AFC stadium? Sure some of these ideas seem ridiculous but they’re better than playing for absolutely no reason. I’m sure there are better ones out there that require just a little brain storming.

Game Option No. 3

The last option is to move the darn thing back to the Sunday after the Super Bowl. The game also needs to be moved back to Hawaii as well. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that playing in a B-Level stadium compares in any way to going over the Pacific Ocean to warm and sunny Hawaii to play. Additionally, when the game is before the Super Bowl, you end up getting a record number of replacements in the game. I know that if my team went to the Super Bowl and lost I’d be pretty ticked the last time I say a player for my team they had their head down in disgust for losing the biggest game of their life. They can at least salvage some pride in a meaningful Pro Bowl.

So there you have it, 10 suggestions as to how the Pro Bowl could be fixed. Some of them are incredibly easy to fix and others might take a little more brainstorming, but the key factor here is that they are all doable.

Below you will find a shot review of the 10 suggestions for those who may have forgotten a point or two along the way.


1.) Football I.Q. Test
2.) Division Specific Voting
3.) Voting Period Moved To Final 5 Weeks
4.) Pro Bowl Committee With Final Veto Powers

The Event

1.) Move Emphasis On/Better Incentive For Players Playing
2.) Skills Competitions For Money/Starter Status
3.) Cheerleader Football Game/Past-Present-Future Game

The Game

1.) A New Set Of “Realistic” Rules That Still Emphasize Safety
2.) Give The Game Meaning Beyond A Paycheck
3.) Move The Game Back To The Sunday Following Super Bowl Sunday



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