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Replace the Pro Bowl With Something Worthwhile

Disclaimer: The following idea(s) that I propose below will likely never see the light of day. I am fully aware of this fact. But it can't hurt to try.

PREMISE: The NFL Pro Bowl is an irrelevant waste of fans' and players' time. About the only thing that's been positive about it in the past is that it provided a relatively mild economic benefit to that tourist-starved island of Oahu (this year the game takes place in Miami, as is the Super Bowl, but the game will return to its Hawaiian stage next year). It should either be scrapped altogether or replaced with an alternative and more interesting concept.

The fact that it is held after the regular season terminates makes the game that much more nonsensical. And though the NFL made a wise decision this year to move up the game to the week before the Super Bowl - instead of the week after as in almost every preceding year - it nonetheless does little to bolster the game's importance as representatives from the two Super Bowl teams will likely not play. When a season ends in sports, it's an out-of-sight-out-of-mind reality for all but the most diehard fanatics.

Unlike in baseball where the two leagues are tangibly different, in both thematic and actual terms, the AFC and NFC are indistinguishable. Gone is the time when the AFC represented a clear link to its ancestors and the wild, rogue days of the AFL embodied by Lamar Hunt, Al Davis, Joe Namath and many others. And even the AFC=offense and the NFC=defense postulate that was the perceived and nearly indisputable truth for so long is no longer applicable either. So without a clear-cut difference in the two conferences, a significant amount of edge is taken off any beauty contest like the Pro Bowl.

(Speaking of baseball, about the only significant - and accidental - accomplishment in Bud Selig's reign of wrong was his decision to make the All Star game count following the 2002 fiasco when the game was called. The winning league of the summer classic now retains home field advantage in the World Series from that point forward.)


THE CONCEPT
: Instead of having the Pro Bowl as currently contested, I suggest going for an entirely novel idea.

What's missing in general in the sports world is a clear lack of spontaneity and innovation. I mean, just consider football - when was the last real significant and visible offensive innovation? Tom Landry's shotgun formation from the 1970's perhaps (which was an updated single wing)? Yes I know that Bill Walsh and others perfected and changed the passing game over the last several decades and coaches like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick have strategized in a singular and unique fashion. And rules have changed to alter the game such as the over-protection of wide receivers. But there's been a noticeable dearth of new ideas in this sport that lays fertile ground for entrepreneurial on-field cunning.

Overall it's been a sport where conformity has ruled and ingenuity has suffered. And this is a sport where coaches and players have the ability to create, manufacture and expand the scope of the sport on each play if they so choose. The sport is tailor made for dramatic and immediate shifts, not gradual and nearly imperceptible changes. After all, football fans have always prided themselves on how different and more popular the sport is than baseball. But the slow pace of change reminds one more of our former national pastime.

What we need is some good American, Emersonian non-conformity to take hold in the NFL. Inject a little pageantry and spectacle, 70's style. The Pro Bowl needs a bit of the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King kind of battle.

Instead of a game of the most talented - or popular - NFL players competing against each other at about 25% effort, why not contest a game where actual pride is on the line?

How about having the team with the worst NFL record face off against one of the top rated college teams? Now this idea is beset with problems, none the least of which is the threat of career-threatening injuries on both sides. But perhaps there is a way around this - forbidding certain hits or having a "hold" rule of sorts or maybe limiting playing time to a set number of plays. And maybe have a shorter game of 30 or 40 minutes instead of 60.

After all, the best college players are nearly pros anyway. And having them compete against NFL players would be a small step in partially stripping away the raging hypocrisy that exists in the NCAA. It's shameful how much money the college programs bring into their respective universities via TV rights and licensing without compensating the athletes. Colleges get to have it both ways - treating their prized players as amateurs while still reaping the massive financial incentives. Big-time college athletes should be compensated for how much cash they bring into their colleges. It's a charade that should be stopped

It'd be fascinating to see how much of a talent gap does indeed exist between the NFL and top NCAA teams. It's a query that nearly every fan has wondered aloud about for all sports - just how much better is the worst NFL team than the best college team? (Or for that matter, would the New Jersey Nets easily defeat the best college basketball team, etc.) Obviously the NFL would win but by how much? No one knows anything until they take to the field. The NFL players would have nothing to gain except preventing a loss of pride. And the league can still put out the list of All-Pro players as that designation should still mean something.

I have no doubt that fans would eat this up. It'd also be a sure boon for the TV ratings, especially if they follow this year's form and hold the game henceforth on the Sunday between the championships games and the Super Bowl. Doubtlessly, this idea would likely never curry much favor in the Park Avenue NFL offices. But the NFL would be well advised to come up with a new format for the game or else it's just another example of a trivial and utterly unimportant sports event.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports. His work has also appeared in Yahoo.com, MSNBC.com, and Tennis Week. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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