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Return of conference battle makes Pro Bowl more competitive

Pro Bowl 2017

Photo Credit: Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

The future of the NFL Pro Bowl is in question, and it has been for a while. The all-star game draws lower television ratings than regular-season games do. Over the last two years, 80 players declined Pro Bowl invites, a league record. But this year, the NFL made a change that seemed to create a more competitive game.

Actually, it wasn’t so much a change as reverting back to a battle between the two conferences, NFC vs. AFC. Players were voted in once again. For the past three years, Pro Bowl teams were picked by celebrity coaches, regardless of which conference the players were in. But there are no easy answers.

One solution could be to pay the players more. Currently, each player on the losing team gets $30,000, while players on the winning team receive $61,000 each. That’s a cut in pay (from regular-season games) for most players, especially the true “all stars.” The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement, under which the Pro Bowl pay scale falls, expires in 2020. At that time, the league might be well advised to negotiate the money situation. After all, if you want some of the top players to show up to make for a better game, you’ll have to make it worthwhile for them.

While more star players could help with the competitiveness of the game, it’s not the full answer. The problem with all-star games (for any sport, but especially football, where physical contact is the name of the game) is that players don’t want to get hurt. It’s one thing to be injured playing in a regular-season game, but there’s really no point in risking it for a post-season game that doesn’t matter – that’s just for the fans.

“Exhibition football is hard to do as a format,” Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake said. “If it’s baseball, you want to see 100 home runs. That’s great. In basketball, you want to see 160 points, dunks, and alley-oops. That’s what they want to see: entertainment. Football, you kind of want to see big hits and aggression and tackling – the chaos and the violence that is football. As an exhibition, is that risk/reward going to be worthwhile to the individuals?”

The answer to that, generally, has been no. Players don’t want to be injured or be the one who injures someone. So they’re playing “gently” (a relative term here), which isn’t what the fans want to see. Still, those who played in Sunday’s game had fun, and they agreed the Pro Bowl should continue to be held.

“I definitely feel that you need to play a game,” Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. “This is stuff for the fans, and it’s all about being able to come out and put on events like this, showcase your talents. But you definitely want to go out and compete in a game like Sunday’s, because as football players, that’s what we do – we play football.”

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