(USA Today) -- Desperate to add some needed spice to its Pro Bowl pineapple, the NFL announced sweeping changes to the All-Star event's structure Wednesday.
Out is the AFC vs. NFC format that had existed for more than four decades. In its place will be a Pro Bowl draft with two team captains - leading vote-getters for the game - determining their rosters with help from two NFL.com fantasy football champions and alumni captains and Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. They will pick players from a pool still determined by votes of players, coaches and fans, though conference affiliation will no longer sway who becomes a Pro Bowler. (Now, there might be five quarterbacks from NFC teams with one from the AFC, whereas in the past there was an equal number of players at every position from each conference.)
The game itself will also undergo some significant modifications courtesy of a plan devised by NFL Players Association president and former cornerback Domonique Foxworth.
"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."
Among the tweaks:
- 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
Though the Pro Bowl continues to draw decent television ratings, the quality of play in recent years has drawn complaints from commissioner Roger Goodell and even players themselves. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said in a 2012 radio interview following that year's game, "I was just disappointed by the lack of pride by some of the players that played in the game."
The league tried bringing the game to the mainland in 2010 as a warm-up act for Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. However players expressed dissatisfaction with that move, many viewing a Hawaii vacation as part of the reward package for a Pro Bowl selection. Hawaii wants to keep the game and tourism dollars it attracts, up to $4 million annually, but is open to the prospect of hosting it on rotational basis.
Adding the pre-game draft might generate some buzz, especially if player and team rivalries produce snubs and trash talk. It will be aired on NFL Network on January 22, four days before kickoff at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, the Pro Bowl's traditional site since 1980. However despite the in-game rule alterations, it probably won't be much easier to produce an NFL-caliber product among stars mostly looking to have a good time and avoid injury. The winning team in the past three Pro Bowls has scored an average of 59 points with a winning margin of nearly three touchdowns.
Goodell, who's publicly mulled canceling the Pro Bowl outright, hopes for better outcomes moving forward.
"The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever," he said while thanking Foxworth.
"We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players."