A recurring criticism of the Pro Bowl is that it has become less and less of an actual football game. If you watched in Orlando on Sunday afternoon, much of the game resembled an NFL training camp practice. I.E. some blocking, but not much in the way of tackling, or hitting and certainly, not what you see week in and week out on NFL Sundays.
The argument is, as Jaguars DL Calais Campbell articulated here, player safety in these exhibition games has become a bigger factor. Campbell, also brought up paying the players more for playing in and winning the game.
We get that.
Yes, you saw the players in the fourth quarter of the Pro Bowl begin to play harder and hit more, because they knew an extra $32,000 per man was on the line for whoever won the game. And, when you saw the AFC players celebrating after Derek Carr’s touchdown to Delanie Walker gave them the lead in the final 2 minutes, it was obvious why.
Now, on Monday the NBA is suggesting that they might increase the financial incentive for the winning team in their All-Star Game to help it resemble more of an actual game. The problem they have is NBA players make ridiculous guaranteed money already (especially compared to the NFL) and we’re not really sure how much the financial component registers with them, if at all.
Next, the NHL has always been quirky with their All-Star Game and its format. Some years they have not even played the game due to the Olympic Hockey (2006,10, and 14). Last night added to the quirkiness, as they divided the All-Star Game into the four divisions playing different segments of the three periods. Also, the teams were playing 3 on 3 hockey in the final period, like they do now in sudden-death overtime. That isn’t traditionally how hockey is played and is a gimmick because it’s an All-Star Game
Ultimately, the winning division team got to split up $1,000,000 between them. Again, using Financial incentive to try to keep the game competitive.
And while financial incentive for wining does on the surface seem to make sense on helping players play harder, it’s not the ultimate leverage that the NFL or another Pro Sports league would have.
And for that, let’s go back to the NFL. Before the last CBA was agreed to in 2011, commissioner Roger Goodell in the league saw how ridiculous the Pro Bowl had become and were clearly threatening to take away the game from the players.
This is the ultimate leverage for any league. Not just because the players want a nice trip/vacation for their families and them, but because they also have financial incentives, much more lucrative than the winning player’s share of the money, in a lot of their contracts. And, those are centered around them being named to the Pro Bowl. Something that obviously goes away, if the game goes away.
Look, whether you’re talking about parenting, a boss dealing with employees, or a teacher in a school classroom, the most effective consequence is the ” I’m going to take it away from you,” more so than, “I’ll give you a reward if you do it right.”
Now, the game Sunday in Orlando was better in some regards, and no one expects the players in the Pro Bowl to smash each other in the trenches, on hits downfield or “kill the quarterback.” That is ridiculous to suggest with player safety at the forefront.
But, if you consistently want to improve the quality of play, the effort and the speed at which the Pro Bowl is played, you simply make it clear like the NFL did before: this game, and all the benefits from it, doesn’t have to exist.
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