OPINION: NFL should follow NBA’s cue with newly-structured Pro-Bowl game

Bucks Small Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of the captains for this year’s NBA All-Star game. Under a new format, the game was a big success. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison & Wikimedia Commons.

Forty-seven minutes. 

It took 47 minutes from the time the 3rd quarter ended to the time Team LeBron was crowned champion of the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, 157-155. It took 47 minutes of real time for a target score of 157 to be reached and another 300 thousand dollars to be donated to the Chicago Scholars Foundation, on top of the 100 thousand that was already being donated. It took 47 minutes of pickup style basketball to draw fans in and reach television ratings not seen in years for the All-Star game. 

For context, the All-Star game is usually an event that maybe you throw on your television screen because nothing else is on to watch. Something you maybe tune into to see full court passes, alley-oops, and endless amounts of scoring. For three quarters of Sunday night’s contest, it was the exact same thing we had seen every other year. 

Then the fourth quarter happened. 

I’ll be completely honest: it was by far the most locked in I’ve been to any NBA game all season. There have been multiple great NBA teams and games this season across the league’s landscape, and the one I’ve paid attention to the most was the one that will have absolutely zero meaning come April in terms of records and playoff seeding. 

The reason this game was so interesting to me — and millions of fans around the country — was because the NBA wasn’t afraid of experimenting with and changing a game we had become so comfortable with. 

When basketball legend Kobe Bryant suddenly passed away a few weeks ago, the league knew they had to do something to honor him at this yearly event. After I’m sure multiple discussion groups and different ideas bouncing around, they came up with new rules for the 2020 game. 

At first, it made absolutely zero sense. The way the rules were explained was: The first three quarters would each be seperate games, each for a $100 thousand donated to charity.  Team LeBron won the first quarter, Team Giannis one the second quarter, and the third ended in a tie, so the $100 thousand carried over to the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter though, was played completely differently. The amount each team scored in the first three quarters was combined, then a target score was created. It was first to reach 24 points from the leading team’s score. The 24 was used as a tribute to Kobe. To further explain, the score heading into the fourth was 133-124 in favor of Team Giannis. This created the target score of 157 points to win the game. Team Giannis needed 24 to win, and Team Lebron needed 24 plus the nine points they were down by.

Yes, I know, a very confusing concept when you first see it. Try explaining that to a 53-year-old man who watches three to four NBA games over the course of an entire year. 

But once you get past the rules and make sense of all of it, the way the game was set up was actually pretty genius. It was the most competitive All-Star game quarter I have ever seen and it led to some of the highest television ratings in years. 

There were guys playing over their minute restrictions, players trying to take charges, and all around superstars genuinely caring about an exhibition match that is usually taken as a game to just score as many points as possible.

But once you get past the rules and make sense of all of it, the way the game was set up was actually pretty genius. It was the competitive All-Star game quarter I have ever seen, and it led to some of the highest television ratings in years.

The defensive intensity was something that you would see in a do or die playoff game, and it’s what had me and millions of others locked into our televisions late on a Sunday night in February.

So I give major props to commissioner Adam Silver and whoever came up with this new idea for having the guts to throw this out there with just a few weeks notice, rather than just not caring about the game like usual. It was a genius idea not only to get the fans involved but the players as well. It was a prime example about how change can often not be accepted at first but turn into something great in the end.

So that begs the next question. Why can’t the NFL do this?

I’m being blatantly honest here when I say that the NFL Pro Bowl, the equivalent of the NBA All-Star game, is a borderline flag football game. No one wants to tackle, there’s no running of the football, and it often is only on my television if there’s absolutely nothing else to watch. It’s barely been three weeks since the Pro Bowl, and off the top of my head I don’t think I can name more than two plays that happened in the game. Fans will be talking about the time Kyle Lowery was trying to draw charges in the All-Star game for the next multiple years. 

I don’t know if the NFL is just too afraid of change, they didn’t like the idea, or they just don’t want to take the time to make changes, but let’s keep in mind here, the NBA pulled this off in just over three weeks time. If the NBA can come up with such a successful idea for a game that had been dying for years, the NFL can surely come up with one for a game that won’t take place for another 11 months, right?

Yes, I know that the game of football is much more physical, but at this point there’s honestly not much of a point to the Pro Bowl anymore if no one actually wants to play or tackle. We see some of the best NFL stars pass up the chance to play in the game (Tom Brady hasn’t played in the game since 2005, despite being selected almost every year); meanwhile, every NBA player who’s selected plays in the game unless they completely cannot play due to injury. 

So, Roger Goodell, take note. You see how intense those guys were playing Sunday night? 

Find a way to do that in your sport. 

You’re the commissioner, and you’re paid to come up with ideas and make decisions like this. 

After all, you have another 11 months to think about it. 

Ben Schmidt is a sports columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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