NFL changes Pro Bowl to captain's choice, nixes AFC-NFC distinction

Thanks to unending complaints from fans, the media and players -- and despite ridiculous ratings for something everyone hates -- the Pro Bowl's been on life support recently, with the NFL hinting at major changes to make it more exciting. Those changes are official, with the league and the NFLPA announcing Wednesday a change to a "captain's choice" format moving forward.

Like the NHL before it, the NFL's all-star game will now feature two captains -- in this case it's Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice -- selecting from a pool of players chosen "without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players."

"As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment," NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth, who proposed the idea to the league, said in a release. "To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas."

Though plenty of people won't appreciate the change, it's a strong solution to an event that generated plenty of negative publicity for the NFL, in large part because of a lack of effort submitted by some of the contestants.

"We were very receptive to the ideas that Domonique and the players put forth," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "From there, our office worked closely with him in developing the concept.  The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever. We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players."

They should -- at the very least the Pro Bowl Selection Special will be entertaining to watch and could manage to generate some buzzworthy picks (what if 49ers legend Rice selected Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson over Niners signal caller Colin Kaepernick?). Bonus for the NFL: the "draft" will be held on NFL Network, while the cable network airing the Super Bowl will retain Pro Bowl coverage.

The NFL also announced a few changes to the setup, including:

  • A "Game Within a Game" that will add a two-minute warning to the first and third quarters, designed to crank up two-minute drills
  • No kickoffs
  • The addition of Cover-2 and press coverage defenses
  • A shorter playclock
  • No stopping of the clock when a sack occurs

My personal favorite change to the Pro Bowl setup is the elimination of conference designations. No longer will the top three quarterbacks from each conference make the event. Instead, it's simply the top six quarterbacks in the league.

This goes against the whole NFC vs. AFC concept of the game (as does having Rice and Sanders, two NFC guys, captain, but whatever) but it also ensures that the best talent is rewarded for their impressive seasons.

Feel free to complain in the comments about your future Pro Bowl complaints.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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