There’s an old joke that I’ve heard a few comedians use to describe an old person whose social views are, shall we say, behind the times: They just lived too long.
Since such subjects are often ripe with opportunities to offend the loyal reader, I won’t delve into that joke any further, but suffice to say that it may also be an appropriate description of all-star weekend in most, if not all, of the major sports.
Most recently, the NBA managed a wholly unappealing 163-158 “thriller” that was destroyed in the ratings by Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary. But the Association is hardly the only league that has seen its all-star product suffer in recent years.
The NHL All-Star Game was unwatchable, with most media members (even hockey-friendly ones) admitting they had to turn it off after just a single period. The NFL is so desperate over the dire straits of the Pro Bowl that they’ve tried everything in recent years, from having Hall of Famers pick the teams to moving the exhibition right into the massive football lag in the middle of the playoffs. Even the MLB All-Star Game, which at least resembles real baseball, has the undignified distinction of having an exhibition that renders the longest season in professional sports moot when it comes to home-field advantage in the World Series.
Don’t get me wrong; most of these games have always been glorified scoring contests with little to no defense. Perhaps it’s not even that the games have changed; modern fans, with more knowledge and access to their favorite sports and players than ever before, no longer have to stomach one poorly played game in order to catch a glimpse of their favorite star being candid or acting “real” in front of the camera.
Mostly, though, the decline of the all-star game can be traced back to the same factor that’s permeated every other aspect of professional sports: Players make so much money and have so much on the line that expecting any of them to actually put any real effort into an all-star exhibition would be foolish. That’s why we should all get behind Carmelo Anthony’s effort to play through injury – just kidding. I couldn’t even type it with a straight face.
In all seriousness, what is the solution here?
The leagues themselves will never do away with the money-grabs associated with all-star weekends. And it’s probably not going out on a limb to say that most of you aren’t vehemently in favor of depriving those host cities of the revenue that any sport’s all-star weekend is capable of generating in the right year.
Yet every pro sport recognizes the issues facing the future of their all-star games. Aside from the NFL’s moves to try and make the Pro Bowl relevant and baseball’s well-meaning attempt to get players and fans to actually care, hockey has experimented with several different methods of building rosters and even tried to make the game more of an event by hosting live bands that play intermittently throughout the broadcast. Heck, a few years ago the NBA Rising Stars game degenerated into an impromptu dunk contest with both teams setting the others up for some impressive throwdowns; it was by far the most entertaining part of the weekend that year.
Which brings me to a suggestion: Why not have an all-star “skills competition” of sorts?
All four major sports already have the beginnings of a skills competition built into their all-star weekends, and most of them are far more interesting than the actual game itself. Adding more competitions to it and doing away with the game may just be the next logical step.
How many of you want to see LeBron James in the dunk contest? Wouldn’t he be more likely to participate if that was his main contribution to all-star weekend?
Isn’t it more entertaining to watch Jonathan Quick in a shootout or a rapid-fire competition than to see him get hung out to dry by defensemen who have agreed not to play defense?
Wouldn’t you rather see Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil face off in 40-yard dashes, bench press competitions and Oklahoma drills than watch them not rush the passer?
Perhaps that last one was a poor example, but the point is that all-star games have always been about the novelty factor, and it’s no longer novel to watch what amounts to a glorified pick-up game played by the best in the sport. I may not have all of the answers, but one thing is for certain: the current format of all-star games has outlived its usefulness in professional sports.
I doubt there are many people out there who want all-star weekend for their favorite sport to go away altogether. I certainly don’t. But professional leagues need to completely rethink the way they present their products on all-star weekend. It’s not going to be enough to change the timing of the game or just find yet another superficial way to shuffle the rosters.
All-star games need real reform, because despite our attachment to the tradition of the events right now, eventually everyone wants the guy who lived too long to just go away.