The Pro Bowl continues to haul in substantial TV ratings for the NFL, year after year, but the tedious AFC-vs.-NFC format and a constant stream of players backing out of the game has left the league searching for a way to upgrade the experience.
What it's come up with is this:
Starting with the upcoming Pro Bowl, to be held on Jan. 26 in Hawaii, the NFL will scrap the conference setup in favor of a "fantasy-like draft," ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. NFL Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders each will captain a team, with the selection process airing Jan. 22 on NFL Network. (The NHL All-Star Game has televised its 'fantasy All-Star draft' since it moved to this format in 2010.) Each team will consist of 43 players (same number as previously allotted to the AFC and NFC), but kickoffs no longer will be a part of the game itself.
• Defenses will be allowed to use Cover Two and press coverage. In previous years, only man coverage was allowed outside of goal-line situations.
• A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarter and the football will change hands after each quarter. The NFL is hoping this increases the frequency of two-minute drills.
• A 35-/25-second play clock will be used instead of the typical 40-/25-second clock.
These are drastic changes for the NFL's All-Star Game, but it is at least an attempt to spice up what has become a rather monotonous affair. So far, it sounds as if this will be a one-time change, with the NFL gauging the success of the adjustments before deciding whether to make a permanent switch.
The game again falls the week before the Super Bowl, meaning that any players participating in that game will be excluded from the festivities, even if they are named to the roster. These updates also do nothing to stop players from backing out of the game due to nagging injuries, either, be they serious or not. But the lead-up to the game will have a little more juice now, even if the product on the field itself still constitutes little more than a glorified practice.