The NFL yesterday announced that the player-selection process for this season's Pro Bowl will be without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players. Players instead will be assigned to teams through the Pro Bowl Draft, in which two leading vote-getters will join two NFL.com fantasy football champions to draft players. Pro Football HOFers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will serve as alumni team captains. The Pro Bowl Draft will air on Wednesday, Jan. 22 on NFL Network. Other changes for the '14 event include a two-minute warning added to the first and third quarters, and the ball changing hands after each quarter. There also will be no kickoffs. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays (NFL). YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote the changes could "revitalize the Pro Bowl, which has been plagued over the past couple years with terrible effort from the players and threats" from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that he "might do away with the game." The event still "gets great ratings, so there was obviously a lot of desire to keep the game going" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/31).
FEELING A DRAFT: CBS Sports Network's Doug Gottlieb said that the Pro Bowl “will never go away" because people watch it, and the NFL is “actually able to make more money because they're going to televise this draft.” Gottlieb praised the NHL, saying hockey “has been doing this in the All-Star Game for the past couple years and it’s great.” He said, “Any good idea is worth copying” (“Lead Off,” CBSSN, 7/31). USA TODAY's Kevin Manahan writes there "likely will be more drama in the draft than in the game," because no matter "how sternly Goodell appeals to players' pride, stars listen more to their agents and care more for their health and wallets" (USA TODAY, 8/1). In L.A., Chuck Schilken noted the NHL has used "a similar format for its all-star game for the last few years." But it could "kind of diminish the thrill of being chosen as a Pro Bowler if you're the very last person selected" (LATIMES.com, 7/31).
ARE CHANGES ENOUGH? NFL.com's Chris Wesseling wrote, "While we salute the NFL and the players' union for their creativity and willingness to think outside the box, we can't help but wonder if the new format fixes the most obvious problem with the Pro Bowl." NFL fans "weren't tuning out because they were tired of seeing the NFC's best versus the AFC's best." They simply were "offended by players going through the motions, making 'business decisions' when it came to tackling and blocking in an exhibition game" (NFL.com, 7/31). Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said the changes will "make it more interesting in the short-term, but it may not solve the fundamental problem of will the layers go harder in the Pro Bowl." Florio: "At least it’s something different and maybe different will make more people interested in the game" ("PFT," NBC Sports Network, 7/31). ESPN's Herm Edwards said the changes are "great" but wondered whether the players are "going to play tackle football or are they going to play touch football?" Edwards: "They still have to go play football and the way they played the last couple years, it's been a little bit embarrassing" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 7/31). ESPN's Marcellus Wiley said, "Once again, they're putting lipstick on this pig." Wiley: "Not one single player in this world wants to play another game of football after the season" ("SportsNation," ESPN2, 7/31). SI’s Andy Staples said there is "still some money to be made off of it, that’s the only reason they're doing this." Staples: "Nobody cares obviously, but there’s money to be made, so they're going to have a game” ("Rome," CBS Sports Network, 7/31).
DIMINISHING RETURNERS: In Chicago, Brad Biggs notes, "There no longer will be a spot for return specialists as an extra defensive back for each team will replace them." Bears WR Devin Hester said, "That was one of my goals for this season. I won't make the Pro Bowl. They can't do that." He added, "If you are taking the returner out of the Pro Bowl, you're taking two positions out. That will suck for me. They are trying to change up the whole game of football and they're messing with people's jobs and lives" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/1). ESPN.com's Andrew Brandt wrote, "With new Pro Bowl format, will be interested how NFL/teams deal with PB bonuses, incentives, escalators for kickers/returners" (TWITTER.com, 8/1).
TWITTER REAX: The N.Y. Daily News’ Ralph Vacchiano wrote, "The new Pro Bowl rules sound very exciting ... Somebody watch it for me and let me know how it goes.” Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt posted, "The NFL doing something visionary and ground-breaking that hockey's been doing for years. #mindblown." CBSSports.com's Will Brinson tweeted, "NFL wins again (as always): networks will get the Pro Bowl itself, but @nflnetwork will get the "Pro Bowl Draft." Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel: "Like idea of Pro Bowl draft rather than conf teams, except, how hard can teammates play against each other? [I know, no one plays hard now]."