While the NFL may seem like an unstoppable juggernaut of a league, all of the financial might in the world can’t overcome certain realities. In 2020, reality, unfortunately, includes the coronavirus pandemic. Try as the NFL might, even they’ve had to make some changes to keep the league’s players safe and socially distanced.
It looks like another change is on the cards, though. The 2020 NFL season has already been somewhat different from the norm; now, the Pro Bowl may be the latest COVID-19 casualty.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NFL to make changes
When the coronavirus pandemic began, the NFL had time on their side. While their season still hasn’t begun, the league was forced to make a few notable changes.
In April, the 2020 NFL draft became the first casualty. On paper, the event was supposed to take over the Las Vegas strip, giving football fans the perfect excuse to visit Sin City; instead, we got a virtual affair, with everyone calling in from the safety of their own homes (or, in Jerry Jones’ case, yacht.) While the nuts and bolts of the evening didn’t really change, it was an omen of things to come.
Since then, we’ve seen several more changes. As part of an agreement between the league and the NFLPA, 2020 won’t feature any preseason games. Training camp rosters will also be trimmed from 90 to 80 players; while neither of those may seem like big issues to your average fan, they will make things a little harder for some clubs.
The NFL Pro Bowl could be the next NFL casualty
While most of the NFL’s changes have affected the preseason, the postseason may be joining the party. It appears that the Pro Bowl could be on the chopping block.
On Saturday, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network seemed to suggest that Pro Bowl pay had been a casualty of the latest labor deal. While he and Ian Rappaport clarified the statement—Pro Bowl pay hasn’t been eliminated but is part of a larger deferment and “the plan is for the players to be compensated for their participation as long as the game is held”—it still raises questions about the exhibition’s future.
Independent of the pay deferral, which suggests there’s at least a chance that the game won’t take place, the Pro Bowl currently seems unnecessary at best and irresponsible at the worst. Even if we overlook the potential risks of playing an NFL season, at least you could argue that those games, in some tiny sense, matter. The Pro Bowl, on the other hand, involves jetting players and their families to a single location for a vacation and a glorified scrimmage. While all sports are insignificant compared to a pandemic, the Pro Bowl is even more meaningless than other events.
Fans won’t be complaining about the preseason or the Pro Bowl
So far, we know that the NFL preseason won’t be taking place in 2020; while the Pro Bowl hasn’t officially been canceled, it certainly seems like a logical cancelation in 2021. NFL fans, however, won’t be losing sleep over either change.
While everyone is always eager for football to return, preseason doesn’t fill the void. For the most part, the starters play a quarter at the most; that leaves season ticket holders stuck paying for plenty of insignificant action. The preseason serves a valuable purpose for NFL teams, but even the most diehard fans don’t really want to pay for it.
Similarly, the Pro Bowl sounds like a good idea, but fails when it comes to execution. Due to the violent nature of football and the game’s scheduling, the all-star game is about as entertaining as the preseason; plenty of stars decline the invitation, and, those who do attend, play a dull exhibition without any real intensity.
If you asked most NFL fans, they’re probably fine with canceling the preseason; the same would be true for losing the Pro Bowl. If COVID-19 forces the league to alter the regular season, though, it will be a different story.