Why the NFL is Testing 2 New Rules at the Pro Bowl, and Why it Doesn’t Matter

One of the NFL’s most anticlimactic events is the Pro Bowl. Despite showcasing the league’s elite players, the low stakes associated with the game and the fear of players getting injured usually means the final product is stale and unwatchable. The one advantage of the game is that it offers the NFL an opportunity to experiment with new rules they may want to install. 

This year, the NFL is trying two new rules in the Pro Bowl. Let’s take a closer look at what those two rules are, and why it doesn’t really matter that the NFL is testing them out. 

The NFL will use the Pro Bowl to try an onside kick alternative

Rule changes have made the onside kick essentially obsolete in the NFL. It’s so hard for the kicking team to recover them that it’s almost a waste of time to attempt it. 

But the NFL is trying out an alternative that may end up replacing the onside kick. The newly suggested rule would give the team who just scored an attempt from their own 25-yard line. The team would have one play to gain 15 yards, essentially creating a fourth-and-15 scenario. If they convert the attempt, they’re allowed to continue. If not, the opposing team takes over on downs from that spot. 

It’s a new wrinkle on the onside kick, and it would be interesting to watch. Gaining 15 yards on one play isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s sufficiently challenging for a losing team to try this. 

Fans will also see a new standard for false start penalties

The NFL will test some interesting new rules at the 2020 Pro Bowl, but in the long run, it probably doesn't matter.
Jets’ Pro Bowler Jamal Adams. | Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

According to USA Today, the other rule change tested will be regarding false starts. This test rule might not be noticeable since it only applies to a few players — receivers on the line of scrimmage: 

“Pro Bowl officials will also be instructed in this year’s game to use a different standard for false start penalties on receivers at the line of scrimmage. It will not be a false start if a receiver moves or lifts a foot off the ground, provided the player resets on the ground for one second.”

That will make it easier on wide receivers if they decide to move their foot before the snap. It gives them a greater margin for error with a chance to reset before the play begins. 

Why the test rules we see at the Pro Bowl won’t matter

While this may seem like a potentially new and exciting development, the bottom line is that it likely won’t matter much. The NFL has a history of using the Pro Bowl as its guinea pig for possible implementations of new rules. However, it has rarely translated to those rules being adopted in practice. 

Take, for example, the practice of having no kickoffs in the Pro Bowl. There are numerous arguments for not having kickoffs in the NFL, period. It could cut down on injuries. In the past few years, the NFL has put rules in place to make it much easier for the kicking team to get touchbacks, essentially making the kickoff useless. It’s a dangerous play that few fans would think too much about if it was removed from the game. And yet, despite removing kickoffs from the Pro Bowl, the NFL persists in keeping it as part of the game.

It’s unclear how these two rule changes will impact the Pro Bowl. But does it matter? The NFL doesn’t have a history of moving quickly to adopt new rules, even when they’re clearly advantageous. It’s highly unlikely that this will change this year. 

Prediction: these new rules will make for a slightly more entertaining Pro Bowl. The NFL will then fail to act on them.