July 31 (Bloomberg) -- The National Football League is abandoning the 32-year-old conference rivalry for its annual Pro Bowl, adopting a fantasy football-like draft to select players for the two All-Star teams.
Instead of the American Football Conference facing the National Football Conference, players will be selected for the game without regard to alignment in voting by fans, coaches and players. The top six quarterbacks in the final balloting would make the Pro Bowl, whether they play for AFC or NFC teams.
Players will be assigned to the squads through a televised draft in which the two leading vote-getters will be joined by two champions from NFL.com’s fantasy leagues. The change is aimed at making the Pro Bowl more fan-friendly after the league considered eliminating the exhibition because of diminished television ratings and criticism about a lack of effort from players and poor quality of play.
“The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players.”
NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth proposed the changes to the AFC-NFC format, which had been in place since 1971. Pro Football Hall of Fame players Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will assist the Pro Bowl team captains and fantasy football champions in the draft, which will be televised on the NFL Network four days before next season’s game on Jan. 26 in Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
The Pro Bowl will be televised by NBC.
“As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment,” Foxworth said. “To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas.”
The NFL and players union will institute several other rules changes this year, including the elimination of kickoffs.
There also will be a two-minute warning added at the end of the first and third quarters, giving more opportunities for quarterbacks to direct “two-minute drills” as the ball will change hands after each quarter. A coin toss will determine which team is awarded possession first, while the ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of the second, third and fourth quarters and after scoring plays.
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