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RealSport Roundtable: Does the NFL need to change the Pro Bowl?

The roster for the Pro Bowl has been announced, and the teams have been picked. With this year holding just as many


The roster for the Pro Bowl has been announced, and the teams have been picked. With this year holding just as many changes as normal, if not more, we here at RealSport sat down to put our points across on the Pro Bowl. Has it had its day? Is it still relevant? Let’s grab a drink and get down to brass tacks.    

The Pro Bowl has become irrelevant, the players have decided

by Nathan Hards

  This year, the Oscars have been absolutely battered by the press, and have been boycotted by several influential actors, for what people are claiming is deliberate white-washing of the nominations, as no black actors were nominated for any categories. People are beginning to question the validity of the institution, and challenge the system for voting. It might be biased, even wrong, but it’s still relevant. At the same time, the NFL is holding its own version of this event, in the form of the Pro Bowl. The franchise exhibition game, where the best of the best clash to prove who can come out on top. This is the All-star game that puts together the highest performing players in the game, and puts them all on the field at the same time. There is no imbalance, there is no tactical voting. You get in based on how good you are as a player. At least that’s the idea. The rules state that players from a team participating in the Super Bowl can’t play at the Pro Bowl, and so alternates are found to replace these players. That’s fine, it’s a competition, we understand. This year, some big names have dropped out as well. Tom Brady, JJ Watt, Ben Roethlisberger. These players have dropped out of the running, not because of injury, but because they have better things to do than head to Hawaii, and play in a showcase of the best players in the game. Picture this, its Oscars night. The award for best male lead actor goes to……… Vince Vaughan. Not because he was the best, but because nobody else bothered turning up. Congratulations Vince, you’re the 56th best actor in the world, and the 1st to accept our invite. Have a shiny man for your mantelpiece. If this were to happen it would entirely devalue the concept. If nobody is turning up for your award ceremony then it’s not relevant. This is even clearer in a competition. If the players that you select as the best players in their position – in the league – don’t turn up, and you have to bring in people that are available, that devalues the entire thing. JJ Watt was rated as the best Defensive End in the game, he’s not coming. This undermines the competition, as it appears that he doesn’t value the award at all, it also undermines all of the players that are still there. I can imagine that Khalil Mack is pretty pissed off that he’s in a competition that Watt can’t even be bothered to turn up for. In short, the top players no longer value the Pro Bowl, and if the people winning the trophies aren’t coming to the ceremony, then who is it for?  

The Pro-Bowl needs a new venue

by Tom Parry Jones

  The last few years have seen an unmistakeable move by the NFL towards expanding their brand overseas. Not content with being the number 1 sport in the United States, the league has organised regular season games in Mexico City and – in case you haven’t noticed – London. With the success of the NFL International Series at London’s Wembley Stadium, the expansion of the event from one game to three games a year has led to calls from fans for the league to award the UK with a Super Bowl, an idea previously mooted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Others have made more reasonable requests: a Pro Bowl, perhaps? Why not play the NFL all-star game at a stadium outside the US and spread the gospel of football and its players’ athletic prowess to overseas markets? But if the Pro Bowl is to move overseas, why not take it to a different venue altogether? London already has the International Series, and one of the biggest potential markets is right on America’s doorstep already. It’s the biggest city in North America by population and one that I’ve already mentioned: Mexico City. As the city that laid the groundwork for the International Series, isn’t it time that Mexico City received its dues for the increased international profile the NFL is now enjoying? The likely venue for a Pro Bowl in Mexico City would be the Estadio Azteca. With a capacity of 95,500, the Azteca is larger than any stadium used by a current NFL team and almost twice the size of Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, more than big enough to accommodate a significant proportion of Mexico City’s nine million in habitants. As well as having the infrastructure required to host a major NFL event, Mexico City has the advantage of good weather in late January and early February. At an average of around 15°C (60°F), the temperatures are milder than in Hawaii (around 23°C/73°F). So although there may be fewer opportunities for sunbathing, it would make for a more comfortable environment for the players and spectators. The NFL would benefit greatly from fostering a better relationship with America’s cousins to the south, not least providing a jumping-off point for further expansion into the rest of Central America and on into South America, with potential future games in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo in Brazil, or Buenos Aires in Argentina. It’s about time the league showed it’s not just the English-speaking world that loves the gridiron.

 

It’s an empty award

by David Pruett

Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson. 11 Quarterbacks – more than a third of the leagues starters – are able to call themselves Pro Bowlers this year. By what measure does that constitute the ‘elite’ at the position? How are we supposed to separate the ‘great’ from the ‘mediocre’ when we are feting so many players? In total 42 players were this year selected to the Pro Bowl and will not participate – meaning 42 players that did not get elected to the game initially will receive the ‘honour’. The Pro Bowl is broken, and what makes it worse is that we use the ‘Pro Bowl’ distinction when it comes to discussing a player’s legacy. Whenever we debate a players credentials for the Hall of Fame the number of Pro Bowls is always a topic of conversation. Looking at it this year, which is not atypical of recent rosters, being in the top third of QBs in the league is not a pillar on which a HoF resume should stand. Further, the nature of the voting and the roster makeup at certain positions shows that the game doesn’t showcase the best players in the NFL. Right Tackles, Strong Safeties and 4-3 Outside Linebackers are almost always under-represented in the game due to the voting structure. Take the Outside Linebacker position specifically – players like Demarcus Ware, Justin Houston and Julius Peppers rush the passer on approximately 90% of their snaps leading to a disproportionate number of sacks when compared to ‘upright’ Linebackers such as Lavonte David (who has mercifully been selected this season having been criminally overlooked previously). When it comes to fan voting sack numbers are valued so highly that the pass rushing OLB are over voted based on production in that area. This contributes to the game itself being a terrible exhibition of football as the ban on blitzing Linebackers leads to players like Peppers playing all their snaps in coverage where they are horribly exposed. In summation – the Pro Bowl is no longer fit for purpose as a celebration of the ‘best’ of the NFL, nor a differentiator that should be considered in contract negotiations or in Hall of Fame discussion.  

The Pro Bowl is fine as it is

by Remy Cabache

The Pro Bowl has been a staple of the NFL’s post-season schedule since 1951 and it has seen multiple formats since an NFL All-Star game was conceived in 1938. Of all of the formats, the current one offers something truly unique in the world of All-Star games so why change it or remove it? In 2012 the Pro Bowl was a shambles. The players were not bothered, the game was a ridiculous spectacle and the fans who forked how hundreds of dollars to go to Hawaii to see this game were thoroughly disappointed. So the NFL made a change and for the last 2 years the Pro Bowl has been revitalised. First things first, the game being unconferenced has added a completely new dynamic to the Pro Bowl, as evidenced by Derrick Johnson and Jamaal Charles in the 2014 Pro Bowl. Having teammates face off against each other and rivals play together makes the game far more enticing to more fair-weather fans. Next, the Pro Bowl Draft that comes with the game being unconferenced is a great. The NFL Draft is one of the biggest events of the year and millions of fans tune in for that, so to add another Draft to the NFL schedule is no-brainer. The whole event is a lot more informal and a lot more entertainment based than actual draft, too, so that in itself is reason to watch. Finally, with the game being unconferenced the ghastly AFC and NFC uniforms have been replaced by the vibrant and exciting uniforms straight from the fantasy department at Nike. The uniforms have all been completely unique and add to the whole experience of the game. The extra profit the NFL makes from these jerseys cannot be ignored either. This all brings me back to my original point: the MLB, NBA, NHL nor any other sporting association offer anything similar to this, so how about we keep it as it is, and enjoy the Pro Bowl for what it ultimately is; a bit of fun.  

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RealSport Roundtable: Does the NFL need to change the Pro Bowl?

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