An Exhibition By Any Other Name

It seems as though every major sport is all struggling with the same thing – what to do with their All-Star game. On the surface the concept seems quite simple; provide a game where the sports’ greatest players can come together to showcase the talent in each league. What could possibly be wrong with displaying the best players in a given sport in front of a national audience?

Pro Bowl 2014The challenge comes when the respective leagues lose sight of the fact that these games are nothing more than glorified exhibition games with little or no meaning in and of themselves. Before I get inundated with comments and email messages reminding me that the Major League Baseball All-Star game does have meaning by determining the home field advantage of the World Series, let me say that is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. The game is still an exhibition.

The problem is, that the major sports all seem to be struggling to capture much of any excitement around their All-Star game festivities. It took MLB having to live through a debacle in Milwaukee in 2002 when the game ended in a tie and both managers having used up all of their players for a change to be made in that game. The change, assigning home field advantage in the World Series, was a knee-jerk reaction and one that most fans have come to resent. Most baseball purists (myself included) feel that World Series home field advantage should go to the team with the best record. This would make the regular season games more meaningful all through the year instead of arbitrarily assigning it to a game where the majority of the players will see limited action and only a few are from teams that would actually benefit from winning the game. That being said, you have to give credit to Major League Baseball for at least trying.

The National Football League has seen interest in their Pro-Bowl to continue in a death spiral for the past several years. They have attempted to breathe new life into the game by moving its location, the timing of the game, and then this year going with a sandlot style of picking teams by two of the games former stars.

This last attempt played out tonight and is a last-ditch effort by the league who a year ago was seriously contemplating eliminating the All-Star game completely. Looking at the stands in recent games it has clearly lost its luster. And really who could blame people who would rather spend time at the beaches in Hawaii than going to a stadium and watch players give lackluster performances in a meaningless game.

The Pro Bowl is played the week before the Super Bowl meaning any players on the two best teams are not able to attend. For those players whose teams did not make the playoffs, they have been out of football for over a month increasing the opportunity for injury. Rules were put in place to protect the players from serious injury, which took away from the on-field excitement and made the game seem like a shell of what fans come to expect when watching football.

I’ll admit, I was curious to see if the new format would make a difference. A week ago Jerry Rice and Deon Sanders got together and picked from a pool of players. On the surface it seemed interesting as you would have players on the same NFL team playing against each other. I’m sure the teams were less than excited about the thoughts that their best defensive players would be hitting their best offensive players.

From the beginning the game seemed to lag. The stands were still not filled to capacity. Some of that may be a result of the constant Hawaiian rains that were falling but others may have stayed away because their favorite players were making their way to New Jersey for next week’s Super Bowl rather than the “sunny” beaches of the Pacific.

In the end my curiosity was short lived. Before the first quarter ended I had already switched channels and was watching Bad News Bears Breaking Training. That fact alone should frighten the powers that be for these All-Star games.

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