Clearly the NFL's version of an all-star game has become nothing more than a display case for sub-elite athletes who have no prior commitments and aren't afraid of injury.
The Pro Bowl used to represent a low-contact match up of the best of the best, the cream of the crop. The limited positions on the roster made a berth something special, something to hang your NFL career hat on.
Now, it seems anything short of a prior scheduled dinner reservation can keep the league's best off the field.
This year, in hopes of drawing a larger audience, Commissioner Roger Goodell has opted to host the game in Miami a week before the Super Bowl rather than the week following the championship.
This sudden and violent deviation from the norm may result in a more limited audience than previous unsuccessful years. Granted, it will be nice to have a little football in between the conference championships and the big game, but its newly acquired date will ultimately prevent a number of great players from attending.
It would be redundant to name every player on the two Super Bowl teams who will be unable to attend the Pro Bowl, but they number fourteen collectively from each team.
I'm sure the great minds of the NFL's front office were cognizant of the possibility of this result, but I still don't see the validity in their reasoning. After all, I don't watch the Pro Bowl to see substitutes to the best.
Even without the negative provisions the new date has provided the game, the Pro Bowl has ultimately lost its flair of late. There are still a few players who relish what it denotes and what it represents, but still others are refraining from playing.
The trend is making the Pro Bowl look like an NFL Pop Warner exhibition and it's quickly turning the league's all-star game into nothing more than a footnote in the wake of common cable programming.
Solutions to problems like this are never easily found nor are they easily executed. Moving the game back to its post-Super Bowl date won't achieve the results the league needs. There needs to be a complete overhaul in the way game is played and, ultimately, perceived.
My vote would go to holding a game during the off season which pitted approaching rookies and the best of the NFL, foregoing the former conference battles. It would certainly expose certain rookies against true NFL talent but it may also uncover a player with a low draft stock who steps up and makes a showing.
Injuries are always a concern in an all-star game, especially in game like football where contact is the rule rather than the exception, but a minimal-collision exhibition between those two groups would garner plenty of attention.
Another possibility is simulating the game through the popular video game Madden. The league has a contract with EA Sports and it could easily simulate and air the game on television without running the risk of injuring an important player.
Simulation is something broadcasters use regularly to predict the outcome of a game, especially on a collegiate level so it wouldn't be absolutely ludicrous to imagine that a video game simulation could give a realistic display of the real thing.
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