By Matt Bowker
If you are like most people, you probably made the wise decision to pass on watching this year’s Pro Bowl. If you did unfortunately watch the game, my only question for you is: Why?
For years, the Pro Bowl, as well as every All-Star game in the major sports, has been a joke. It’s a football game without the hitting, effort and meaning of a true NFL game. You would be more entertained watching a local pee-wee football game or your little brothers play Madden. Those 5-year olds may not know the rules, but at least they give it their all.
The problem with All-Star games is that the players refuse to subject themselves to injury by participating in these games, and rightly so. Why should players risk losing millions of dollars to play in a game that has absolutely no meaning or consequences? Players have no incentives to play in these games. This year, Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals made the Pro Bowl coming off an exceptionally average season, because seven quarterbacks in front of him dropped out of the game. This man has no business in a game with the purpose of showcasing the best talent in the league. He’s a ginger, for God’s sake! He belongs in the Weasley family, not in an All-Star game.
The NFL and NHL have tried various things to attempt to spark interest in the games. Both leagues have gone to a fantasy draft format, where team captains select players from the league, regardless of conference. This is a good building block to success, which certainly adds some interest to the event. It is fun to see bitter rivals play on the same and teammates play against each other.
The NFL has toyed with moving the game to the week before the Super Bowl in the host city. That way, they would play the game while football season is still ongoing rather than the week after when football is an afterthought. The problem with this is that the Super Bowl is played almost exclusively in the same five stadiums. The NFL should learn from the other three major leagues and host the Pro Bowl in a different city each year. This would ensure higher ticket sales to the game. Say the game is played in Jacksonville. The Jaguars are terrible, and their fan base has not seen an All-Star player since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fans in the area might go to the game just to see what a star player is and to escape the reality of living in the armpit of Florida for a few hours.
While the draft and the skills competition in the NHL and NBA are exciting and refreshing, the problem still lies in the main event of the weekend: the game. The MLB has by far the most interesting All-Star game. Tune in to Fox to see which steroid-ridden man will hit the ball the furthest! The game matters because it determines which league will receive home-field advantage in the World Series. This is a great way to ensure players’ interest and effort.
The problem with the NHL and NFL is that they cannot simply copy the MLB’s model. The risk of injury is too high with the physicality of hockey and football, whereas in baseball the biggest risk of injury is getting indigestion from eating one too many dollar dogs.
The NFL, NHL and NBA, to the dismay of fans everywhere, will not change their All-Star format while the events still make money, and sadly they do. So for now, enjoy your mundane football, hockey and basketball All-Star “competitions.”