Friday, August 02, 2013

Futzing with Football: Pro Bowl Edition

The NFL & NFLPA decided this week to make a few changes to the Pro Bowl. Some are welcome (adopting the NHL idea of the fantasy draft, eliminating kick-offs aka the most dangerous play in football), some seem more dubious (ball changes hands at the end of every quarter, allowing Cover 2 defense).This is all well and good and it's nice that the league is still concerned with making the Pro Bowl an enjoyable experience for fans, but I think it's still too much like regular football, and I've got 4 or 5 ideas I think can push it even further into the realm of wacky offseason exhibition it really deserves to be.

1) Play 7 on 7 flag football tournament.
Look, it's already a glorified game of touch football, with nobody going all out, why not cut the pretense and take the tackling out all together. Sure there's no chance to see big hits, but no one wants to see big hits in the Pro Bowl. Instead what you could get is the surreal sight of seeing Joe Thomas lined up at Nickel Back against BJ Raji in the slot. Who wouldn't watch that? All you would have to do is mandate that at least say 2 linemen are in on every play as eligible receivers. 1 QB, 2 linemen, 4 skill players/DBs/LBs. Beautiful. Also, this eliminates one factor that is currently in play with the fantasy draft format. Imagine JJ Watt and Arian Foster end up on opposing teams. Do you think JJ is gonna take any chance of laying an injury on his teammate in a (mostly) meaningless exhibition game? Methinks not.

As for the tournament format, make it 4 teams of 25 players, 100 players total (100!). So each team plays 2 games. 1 in the semi-finals, then either the championship game or the 3rd place game. Players pay-outs would based on finish. $100,000 for winning, 75K for 2nd, 50K for 3rd, 25K for 4th.
Since it's 7 on 7 you could play to a score instead of playing a timed game. So it's first to score 5 (or 7 or 10) times OR 30 minutes, whichever comes first to keep it moving.

2) Everybody plays 2 ways (except QBs, obviously)
One of the great things about an exhibition game is, or should be, that there is a certain freedom that you don't have in a game that counts. There's room to take chances on things that you would never do, like certain trick plays or, more importantly, letting guys play out of their normal position. I do that and more by REQUIRING players to play out of their normal position. Everyone who plays, has to play both ways equally. 10 plays on offense = 10 plays on defense (and vice versa). If the time runs out and someone played defense but didn't play just as much offense your team forfeits at least one score for every play missed and the game can't end if you reach the required number of scores but everyone hasn't fulfilled their play requirement.
This is where coaches will really have to earn their stripes, managing everybody's plays. Actually this would just be a miserable task for some miserable assistant coach who already hates his miserable life because he thinks he should be a head coach. This will really help make sure everybody plays and not too much. But it could give us some intriguing matchups.

Besides, who wouldn't want to see more of this?

The one exception here is QBs. They're too important to have them running around the field of play. As much as we'd all like to see it, it's much better for all of us if they stick to what they do best. Good quarterbacking is too important, even in an exhibition. The other QB related thing I'd throw in is this: Each team gets 2 QBs and both have to play, so it would be fun to see how coaches decide which one to start and which one to use as the closer.

3) Fans Design Uniforms
Or at least Nike. One of the things young fans love about college football is the teams (specifically Oregon) with wild uniforms. I think an NFL/Nike collaboration on a contest that allowed fans to design uniforms (via a website or a Pro Bowl Uniform Designer App©) for the Pro Bowl teams over the summer (to keep fans engaged!) then Nike and the NFLPA pick the top 10 and put it up to a fan vote for the 4 uniforms that will go to the Pro Bowl. I can't wait to see what you all come up with!
At the Fantasy Draft, the team with the 4th pick would get first pick of uniforms and so on, and the jerseys could be 3D printed on the spot. The future is now!

4) Super Bowl Scratches Pick Their Replacements
I think this is only fair. If you earned a Pro Bowl spot AND a trip to the Super Bowl I think you ought to at least get to choose the man that goes as your representative. The great thing about this is that they can't choose a teammate, as the teammates are also going to the Super Bowl, so who would they pick? Would they go with an old college buddy? The hometown team's favorite player who didn't make it, in hopes of getting extra swag from the city while you're there? A player from a rival team who was the last man out? Would A Super Bowl-bound QB troll the entire sports world and pick Tebow???
I would invite the players to announce their selections on Twitter, so they could be as friendly or as passive-aggressive as they want to be in inviting someone to take their spot. And would anyone turn down the offer? (Tebow probably would). If you invited someone to take your spot and they declined, then what? Do the rights to that spot go to the player you picked? Oh man, I didn't think this through all the way, we don't want to end up with Pro Bowl roster spot hot potato!
If you're injured and can't play, though, tough; you still get replaced by whatever method is currently in use.

5) Get to the Super Bowl site.
Honestly, Hawaii has been a great host over the decades and there's no question I would jump at the chance for a free Hawaiian vacation too, but this isn't all about the players, there's TV and the league to think about. Having a massive influx of star players in the Super Bowl city the week before the game would be amazing for the league and media (won't somebody please think of the show bookers on Radio Row!); and it's not like the players can't take their vacations one week later. Players can go to Hawaii on their own time, on their own dime. They make plenty of money to afford to take their families on any tropical vacation of their choosing. Besides, if you're the family of a perennial Pro Bowler, wouldn't you want to maybe vacation somewhere else for a change? Same city, same hotel every February? Boooooring. (And shouldn't the kids be in school anyway???)
The NFL has been amping up it's Super Bowl week NFL Experience faux theme park thing anyway and adding the Pro Bowl would be a perfect add-on for regular NFL fans in a regular NFL city to be able to go an event that wouldn't cost a bajillion dollars like the main event. In fact, you could even let season ticket holders in as part of their ticket package, so local fans have a buy-in to the hoopla and not just tourists.

So there you have it, NFL. Implement these changes and watch your Pro Bowl ratings soar. (Especially if Peyton Manning gives his spot to Tebow).

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