By Max Ferguson, Staff Writer
With the end of the 2023-24 NFL season rapidly approaching, the league rounded up the strongest candidates to put on a spectacle of football in this year’s Pro Bowl. Each conference sent their best players, voted on by fans, to represent them in the Pro Bowl games. The Pro Bowl is no longer an organized game of the NFL, but rather a series of skill competitions occurring in between the quarters of a flag football game. Events included precision passing, a golf accuracy contest, tug of war, precision long snapping, tic tac toe (played by kickers), a relay race, an obstacle course, a session of the video game Madden NFL 24, and more.
The most interesting part of this year’s Pro Bowl was the 7-on-7 flag football game. The NFL is making every move possible to expand the sport to as many people as possible. One of the methods they’ve opted for is the expansion of flag football. Flag football quells most parents’ concerns over injury and makes the game more accessible because it eliminates the cost of most football equipment. The NFL recently opened a job listing for a Vice President of Flag Football Operations.
Many fans were quick to criticize the decision of a flag football game, as removing four players on the line from each team makes plays much less intricate and essentially reduces the game to man-on-man coverage for every single play. While All of these complaints are valid, the current format of the Pro Bowl not only aligns with the NFL’s current goals but also protects players from injury. Every game of tackle football carries the risk that it may be a player’s last, even with every protection and strategy for mitigating risk put in place. Thus, it’s a tough sell for the NFL’s best to suit up and risk their careers on a Pro Bowl game that has no benefit to their teams or themselves.
The players seem to enjoy the current format of the Pro Bowl. Every camera angle showed a player smiling throughout the entirety of the games. The stress of ending one’s career over a benign game is alleviated, granting players to enjoy themselves more. The Pro Bowl has allowed them to show off why they were selected in a way that mitigates the risk of injuries. It is not surprising that the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) had a hand in removing tackle football from the Pro Bowl. As it currently stands, the NFL’s prerogative is to turn the Pro Bowl into more of a promotional event than anything, hence the game of Madden that was played by Puka Nacua and Mica Parsons against David Njoku and Tyreek Hill.
Although every fan would love to see the NFL’s best go at each other in what would likely be the most competitive game of the year, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. The NFL has been doing damage control concerning the controversy of concussions for years. Reverting to a proper game of football would not help their cause. Moreover, by making their best players play flag football, the NFL’s prime expansion target is likely to get more kids inspired to play if they see their favorite players doing it too. However, this current Pro Bowl format is not final. The league has been tweaking the event since COVID when it was nothing more than a game of Madden live-streamed. This Pro Bowl format certainly has room to improve and is likely to receive lots of loud feedback from fans.