NFL Looking to Replace Senior Bowl as top College All-Star Game
Updated July 20, 2021
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.
A few weeks ago, the East-West Shrine, which is the nation's oldest all-star game, and the NFL announced a new partnership. One result of the NFL's backing of the East-West Shrine is moving the all-star game and practices to Las Vegas, Nevada from St. Petersburg, Florida. The East-West Shrine practices and game are being incorporated into the Pro Bowl, which will cause the East-West Shrine Game week to overlap with the Senior Bowl practices. The Shrine game will take place on a Thursday, while the Senior Bowl will take place on Saturday, two days later. Scouting sources from around the NFL shared they all agree that the league office is trying to replace the Senior Bowl with the East-West Shrine as the top all-star game.
Scouting sources say the league office envisions the combination of a college all-star game and the Pro Bowl as a profit generator for the NFL. For years, there has been talk that the NFL has been considering starting its own all-star game, and with the pandemic forcing the cancelation of last year's East-West Shrine, the Shrine-game organization was in a position of need, per league sources. There are rumors in the scouting community that the East-West Shrine and Pro Bowl will also move locations like the NFL draft, Super Bowl, and likely the NFL scouting combine. The league wants another big event and envisions making the East-West Shrine the top college football all-star game with more and better talent than the Senior Bowl, according to NFL sources.
"Clearly this will de-emphasise the Senior [Bowl]," said one team president. "[I] wonder if they will try paying players again after the NCAA changed the rules. That is the way they used to attack the better players."
Obviously, the NFL has more financial resources than the Senior Bowl does, so if the NFL is willing to compensate the players, one would think they would be able to outpay the Senior Bowl. Aside from players playing for free, another tradition that looks precarious for the Senior Bowl is having NFL coaching staffs run the two teams. Agents love having their players spend a week with a team's coaching staff to make a good impression and hopefully cause the coaches to fall in love with the player. The pro coaching is a leverage point that could make a real impact for the two games, according to some team staff.
"If the NFL pulls their coaching staffs from the Senior Bowl and has them just at the East-West Shrine, that is going to be a killer for [the Senior Bowl]," said an area scout. "Right now, that's the only advantage Senior Bowl has over East-West."
The move to Las Vegas and being paired with the Pro Bowl were shrewd moves to recruit college talent to the East-West Shrine over the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Here is how one area scout explained it:
"Obviously, coaches and scouts will prefer to spend a week in Las Vegas, but the agents are going to really love it. Think about it: they can be there for their veteran players in the pro bowl and with their rookies at East-West. They can take them all out for drinks, sell the rookies on spending time with their Pro Bowl veterans rather than going to Mobile, and basically they can handle their different players at the same time and place. So I think you will see agents telling their players to go to the league-sponsored East-West game instead of the Senior Bowl."
Another top executive echoed those sentiments:
"I'm worried about the Senior Bowl for Jim Nagy," said a NFC director of player personnel of the Senior Bowl's top executive. "I think the league funding East-West might drive the better players to go there through their agents for more exposure."
This has caused some to wonder why the NFL is targeting a replacement for the Senior Bowl. There are many reasons, but the profitability of having the top all-star game paired with the Pro Bowl will provide the league another big event, and the NFL loves the attention along with the money. There have been rumors for many years that the league office has wanted the Senior Bowl to change its location. There were rumors of the Senior Bowl being pushed to move to Tampa, Florida over a decade ago. While the league will never state its discontent publicly, multiple scouts and team personal have said the NFL league office does not like having the top all-star game in Mobile, Alabama. They feel the city is too small; they don't like the neighborhood around Ladd-Peebles stadium; they don't like the struggle to sell tickets to the game; and Mobile is not a convenient destination for non-stop flights from around the country.
Prior to 2019, the Senior Bowl never used an in-door practice facility, and that left the weather during practice week a concern for all parties involved for year. A field with a roof was built at South Alabama to be used for Senior Bowl practices in inclement weather, but the indoor practice field at South Alabama is extremely small and crams a lot of personnel together on the sideline. Obviously, the dome on Allegiant Stadium's in Las Vegas fixes avoids those issues for the East-West.
Team sources say the NFL has approached the Senior Bowl in the past about moving out of Mobile to another city, but the Senior Bowl has turned down those overtures. The Senior Bowl is a huge economic boost for Mobile, and losing the all-star game would be devastating for the city.
Another reason some team sources said they think teams will end up preferring the East-West Shrine is some behind-the-scenes politics between the two games and general managers in the league. Some feel there is one general manager in particular who has too big of a say as to who is on the Senior Bowl roster. They feel that general manager's relationship with Nagy leads to certain players who they want to see being excluded while including other players who they don't believe belong at the top all-star game.
The East-West Shrine ending a few days earlier also offers players a couple extra recovery or travel days before starting training for the NFL scouting combine. That will appeal to the prospects, agents and trainers.
While it certainly appears NFL is attempting to replace the Senior Bowl with the East-West Shrine as the top college game, lost in the shuffle is that this could hurt the individual NFL teams by making scouting more difficult. In the past, the East-West Shrine being one week before the Senior Bowl let franchises have as many staff as they wanted at each game without any conflict.
"The smaller staffs will struggle the most because they can't deploy as many people all in the same week," said an AFC director of college scouting. "The teams that are organized and have a clear plan of who to target will be just fine. All clubs will start February meetings tired from the all-star week, which will suck. The gap til the combine is the same for the scouts because we all meet most of February, but [East-West] does give the the all-star players extra rest time before going from playing to testing."
Another director of college scouting made an almost identical statement.
"The short answer is split staff (typical) and prioritization of personnel attendance depending on the rosters," said a different AFC director of college scouting. "Pre-combine draft meetings may need to be tweaked slightly."
The change in schedule is a net negative and a lost opportunity for some draft prospects as well. Consistently in past years, players who performed well at the East-West Shrine and created a buzz with the scouts often got a call to go join the Senior Bowl. Now that possibility has been taken from the players.
The Senior Bowl also provided a networking environment for a lot of recently fired assistant coaches and scouts to try to land with teams that had openings. That could be more difficult if they have to decide between the two cities.
Everybody knows the NFL is constantly looking to expand its brand and increase its profitability. Sources from around the scouting community believe the East-West Shrine replacing the Senior Bowl as the top college all-star game is the next big shakeup the league is targeting in the next few years.