The NFL is announcing some fairly significant changes to the Pro Bowl, and while it might not necessarily make the game much more watchable, it is a step toward trying to do something with it. According to various reports (Adam Schefter, Andrew Siciliano and others), the league is eliminating the AFC vs. NFC set-up, and instead will have a sort of fantasy draft to set teams. They are also removing kickoffs, and instead possession will change at the end of each quarter.
As would be expected, the league will make an event out of the fantasy draft. NFL Network will air the draft January 22. This type of draft raises some interesting question marks. The most notable would probably be this:
Fooch's Update: There will still be voting by fans, players and coaches, but it sounds like we will vote for everybody at a position at once as opposed to NFC QB, AFC QB, NFC RB, AFC RB, etc. Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice will act as honorary team captains, but the two leading vote-getters will be doing the roster selections with input from Sanders, Rice, and others.
Here are some of the other changes, per an NFL/NFLPA press release:
- Game within the Game - A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters and the ball will change hands after each quarter. This will increase the opportunities for quarterbacks to direct "two-minute drills," which are especially exciting for fans.
- No Kickoffs - The coin toss will determine which team is awarded possession first. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays.
- Rosters - The rosters will continue to consist of 43 players per squad. The kick return specialist will be replaced by an additional defensive back.
- Cover Two and Press Coverage - The defense will be permitted to play "cover two" and "press" coverage. In previous years, only "man" coverage was permitted, except for goal line situations.
- Stopping of the Game Clock - At the two-minute mark of every quarter, if the offense does not gain at least one yard, the clock will stop as if the play was an incomplete pass. This rule eliminates the ability of a team in the lead near the end of the game to easily "take a knee" to secure their win.
- Game Timing- The game clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee, except inside the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
- Play Clock - A 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.
- Sacks - The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the game. Currently, the game clock stops in these situations outside of two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
Is the removal of kickoffs a sign that the league will eventually get rid of kickoffs for games that matter? It might be a slippery slope argument, but given the concussion and other injury issues, it does not seem out of the realm of the possible.
I'd say the best solution is getting rid of the Pro Bowl entirely, but it still draws crazy ratings. In 2012, among sports programming in the first half of the year, the Pro Bowl ranked better than most NBA and NHL playoff games, minus the NBA Finals. People actively describe their distaste for the game, and yet it still draws solid ratings. For fans of teams no longer player, I guess they view it as one more chance to get in their football fix before the offseason.