The Collegian
Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Pro Bowl, with date change, still struggling All-Star game

The National Football League will add a new twist to an old tradition this Sunday with its decision to move the time and place of the Pro Bowl, its version of an All-Star Game.

Traditionally, the Pro Bowl is a post-Super Bowl face-off between the best of the best in the National Football Conference and American Football Conference. Players and their families trek off to the Aloha State of Hawaii for a week of practice, relaxation, family time and, of course, the game itself. This year, however, the NFL switched up the schedule and squeezed the Pro Bowl between championship weekend and the Super Bowl. Oh, and say bye-bye to Hawaii and hello to Florida.

The new Pro Bowl slot creates a conflict for those players whose teams are in the Super Bowl.

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning was originally posted as the AFC's starting quarterback. New Orleans' Drew Brees was supposed to start as quarterback for the NFC. Both conference teams will play without their original starters because they have bigger and questionably better things to tend to - Super Bowl XLIV.

The roster absences stretch beyond the quarterback position. The AFC will be without its starting wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Backup center Jeff Saturday will be getting prepared for the big(ger) game as well. The NFC team may fare a bit better as it stands to lose only tackle Jonathan Stinchcomb, center Jonathan Goodwin, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and starting free safety Darren Sharper.

These roster changes should be a big deal to football fans across the country. Many of the bests will be substituted by the second-bests, and even though those players come from the highest caliber, the atmosphere of the game probably will not be the same.

Now, as I sit here and say this, a bigger question comes to mind: Who actually cares about the Pro Bowl changes? Pro Bowl selection serves as an honor to players across the league, but the game frequently receives criticism for its timing, the lack of player motivation and viewership following, among other things.

I will take a stab at guessing which group does care about the new changes - the players and families who will no longer enjoy a Hawaiian vacation and will instead be forced to settle with south Florida. Florida may be warm and sunny this time of year - who knows with the weather the state has had this winter - but it lacks the exotic allure. To put it bluntly, the location is a downgrade.

Beyond location, the overall structure of the eventmay be seriously flawed. Let's take the criticism regarding player motivation for instance. On the list of priorities for those involved with the Pro Bowl, the game itself seems to fall in the bottom slot. Maybe this can be attributed to the off-season-mode syndrome or the lack of team chemistry.

So, the NFL attempted to tackle this problem by sliding the Pro Bowl into the weekend before the Super Bowl. This is flawed logic. The only teams not in off-season mode at this point are those that played the past couple weeks during the playoffs. And two of those teams made it to the Super Bowl. Players from other teams have been out of play for a while now. Two weeks will not make a substantial difference in their attitudes.

Another structural instability could also be how fans check themselves out after the Super Bowl. The drop-off in football viewership post-Super Bowl could be because the event marks the pinnacle of each football season, and everything that comes after comes across as anti-climactic. Many fans (and I cannot claim to be guiltless) merely forget that the Pro Bowl exists until they turn on SportsCenter the next day and see select highlights from the game. Who knows whether the new timing will draw more fan viewership or whether the location will motivate more people to attend the game. Florida is easier to get to than Hawaii for the average fan.

Maybe this column will intrigue some of The Collegian's readers to turn on the television this Sunday and watch the game, but I doubt that it would make a huge difference in the ratings. The Pro Bowl needs a makeover and the NFL has clearly taken steps in an attempt to improve its quality.

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Will the Pro Bowl become more enticing? Can it be saved?

I sure hope so. If the NFL's efforts prove to fail this Sunday, the league may need to start questioning whether the Pro Bowl, a game that honors players who have exceeded expectations as well as their peers' accomplishments during the course of a season, faces obsolescence. Those players should be proud to showcase their ability and skill, and make the Pro Bowl a game that every fan waits anxiously to come around each year.

Contact staff writer Jessie Murray at jessie.murray@richmond.edu

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