- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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For decades, the NFL considered the Pro Bowl a showcase of its top players.
That showcase could end if commissioner Roger Goodell can't come to an agreement with the NFL Players Association over the game's short- and long-term future. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Thursday that Goodell could suspend the Pro Bowl next year. The future of the Pro Bowl beyond 2013 looks bleak, too.
Part of the league's position is bargaining. Owners and league officials know most players selected to the Pro Bowl enjoy using the game as a chance to vacation in Hawaii with family and friends. But the game itself has become a vacation from real football.
The game is more touch than tackle. Offensive linemen engage defensive linemen with the idea of avoiding injuries. Sure, the NFL is increasing its emphasis on safety, but right now the only injuries suffered in these games occur when football traditionalists who are upset about the poor quality of football they are witnessing hurt an arm throwing the TV remote.
Only the players can save the Pro Bowl. If they do, it will continue. But for it to continue, the NFLPA must give the league assurances that fewer players will pull out of the game and provide a plan to improve the quality of play. For their part, players will probably ask that Hawaii be a permanent site.
However, establishing Hawaii as a permanent site may not be that easy. The league is still in talks with Hawaii about future games there. Attendance has been poor. Revenues are down. Costs are higher. Some government officials in Hawaii seem unwilling to make the concessions the NFL is seeking.
Next year's game is scheduled for New Orleans. The league has also played the game in Miami.
Goodell has tried to promote more interest in the Pro Bowl. He changed the schedule, placing the game between the league championships and the Super Bowl -- it had been played after the Super Bowl. That move improved ratings. Of course, the problem with scheduling the game between the championships and the Super Bowl is that the Super Bowl players can't take part.
The players don't want to see the Pro Bowl suspended. Agents negotiate Pro Bowl bonuses. Only the 86 originally selected players -- no replacements -- would be eligible for those bonuses if the game weren't played. The league would still have Pro Bowl voting, but the interest in that would drop if the game were eliminated.
My guess is that the league will come up with a deal, but only if the players step up to save the game. Networks still want it. If the players feel the same way, they can save it, too.
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