In response to growing discontent among fans, players and even Commissioner Roger Goodell himself, the NFL announced Wednesday that it’s introducing an intriguing new format for next year’s Pro Bowl.
Instead of an equal number of players from each conference making the team, the selection process will now include the top players at their position, regardless of conference affiliation. Voting will still be split among fans, coaches and players, but once the ballots are tallied, the teams will be drafted by the top two overall vote getters, along with the help of two fantasy football champions from NFL.com and Hall of Fame players Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, who will serve as alumni team captains.
NLFPA President Domonique Foxworth spearheaded the changes.
“As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment,” Foxworth said in a statement. “To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas.”
Alterations to the little-loved game don’t end there.
Possession will switch sides at the end of each quarter and a two-minute warning will be added to the second and third quarters, creating additional opportunities for the “two-minute drill.” Instead of kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line to start each quarter and after scoring plays, and kick returners will be replaced on the roster by an additional defensive back. To speed up the tempo of the game, the Pro Bowl will use a 35-second/25-second play clock, instead of the 45-second/25-second play clock featured in regular games. And instead of only allowing “man” coverage, defenses will be allowed to play in “cover two“ and “press” packages.
“We were very receptive to the ideas that Domonique and the players put forth,” Goodell said in a statement announcing the changes. “From there, our office worked closely with him in developing the concept. The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever. We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players.”
With drastic changes to the selection process and the game itself, the NFL deserves credit for reinvigorating an event that even recently looked like it might be scrapped altogether.
The player draft is scheduled for Wed. Jan. 22, with the Pro Bowl taking place a week before the Super Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.