The NFL's annual all-star snoozefest has just been given a desperately needed facelift in the vein of its biggest unintentional byproduct--fantasy football.
The voted-on AFC and NFC rosters that have been in place for more than forty years are no longer. In its place, two team captains (one representing each conference) will draft custom teams with help from HOFers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. They can't pick just anyone--a pre-made pool is still the result of tallies of votes by coaches and fans--but each position no longer has to be equally represented. There could be ten wide receivers from the AFC and only two from the NFC, and so on.
It's a desperate move, but probably the right one, as many of the professional leagues' all-star events are being lambasted and shunned by the general viewing public. Blame shorter attention spans and more complicated labor relations between leagues and player unions. As seemingly archaic as the Pro Bowl has become, the NFL deserves praise in attempting to salvage and not scrap its tip-of-the-cap to honor each season's best performers.
In addition to to the fantasy-esque "draft," several rule changes have also been added:
— Every quarter will end with a two-minute warning and change of possession to promote more quick-strike drives (teams will not be allowed to sit on the ball since the clock will stop on any play that doesn't gain positive yardage inside two minutes)
— There will be no kickoffs; all quarter-opening possessions will start at the 25-yard line with the first determined by coin toss
— Kick returners will be replaced by an extra defensive back on each 43-man roster
— Cover 2 and press coverage will now be allowed; only man-to-man coverage was allowed in the past, goal-line situations notwithstanding
Simply put, the new format is tailor-made entertainment. What has separated the NFL from the MLB and others is its willingness to evolve with the demands of increasingly critical consumers. Video replay and other sweeping changes are seamlessly integrated on an almost yearly basis. It's certainly not perfect--and the jury's still out on whether the changes will convincingly resurrect the Pro Bowl game--but it's a commendable start.