The initial announcement this past week of the Shrine Bowl moving from St. Pete to Las Vegas was met with positivity. Who wouldn’t be happy for a game with such a tremendous charitable record going from the decrepit architecture of Tropicana Field to the new pearl of the desert, Allegiant Stadium? But then you start to read more into it. Then you see that the game will overlap with Senior Bowl week. Then you hear of the NFL’s involvement and support. And this leads me to believe that the Shrine Bowl is attempting (or maybe has already succeeded) a coup to overthrow the Senior Bowl as the premier All-Star game leading into the NFL Draft.
The Shrine Bowl hired a new regime in June to take over. Former XFL scouting director Eric Galko now heads them up. Galko’s first major move was the announcement of the move to Las Vegas and its partnership with the NFL. While some of the specifics have not been released, we know that the game will occur in primetime on Thursday, February 5th. This will be on the same day as the final Senior Bowl practice, two days before the Senior Bowl game on February 5th. The Shrine Bowl has traditionally been on the Saturday before the Senior Bowl.
What we don’t know is what is the official practice schedule for the Shrine Bowl. Dane Brugler of The Athletic tweeted that practices would start on Saturday. However, if the Shrine Bowl sticks with its traditional four days of practice then the final practice would occur on the same day the Senior Bowl practices start. This will also run against the new HBCU Combine held the weekend before Senior Bowl practices in Mobile. So now you may be entering a situation where teams will have to decide to either split their scouting staffs up, leave Vegas a day early, or get into Mobile a day late.
There is also a question about whether the Shrine Bowl will have full team NFL coaching staff as the Senior Bowl has used for decades. The Shrine has used a collection of younger NFL position coaches as their team coaching staffs over the last several years. A source also revealed that the Senior Bowl is not guaranteed to be broadcast on NFL Network. While I feel another network (like ESPN) would pick up the mantle quickly, it is still noteworthy.
Will the Shrine Bowl alter its access for media and fans alike. Media has never been allowed at the Weigh-in, and they only get access to the players for a few minutes after practices. Fans have gotten even less access. Whereas at the Senior Bowl (COVID-restricted 2021 the exception), the media gets a fair amount of access. The fans are allowed at every practice and have a traditional meet-and-greet on the Friday before the game.
Did this blindside the people at Senior Bowl HQ in Mobile? I can’t help but think that it did. With that being said, it doesn’t appear that the Senior Bowl is changing its plans for the 2022 game.
Can the Senior Bowl survive if it loses its NFL support? I believe the short answer is yes. Sometimes a little competition is good for the soul. But will it be a competition for players? If the choice is NFL affiliation and a week in Vegas or no NFL support in Mobile, Alabama, there probably won’t be much choice. They may have to decide if they are okay with swapping roles in the All-Star game pecking order with the Shrine Bowl. Will the city of Mobile support the game if it is getting the second-tier of the top senior prospects? Maybe.
After Phil Savage left as the Senior Bowl president in 2018, Creg Stephenson of AL.com went all Nostradamus on the situation by writing this:
“But it is an open secret that the Senior Bowl’s existence in its current form relies on support from the NFL. Though the Senior Bowl itself is run by the Mobile Arts and Sports Association and could not very well pick up and move to another city, if the NFL decided to create its own all-star game and pull its coaches and scouting support from the Mobile game, the Senior Bowl would be dealt a death blow. (For the record, there are no indications — or even strong rumors — that the NFL has plans to do this, but the conventional wisdom is that the league might look to consolidate operations such as all-star games, the draft, the combine, and the Pro Bowl once the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium opens in 2020).”
Has the above scenario come to pass? The Combine is rumored to be on the move now. While they didn’t create their own ASG, they seem to be partnering with the Shrine Bowl.
Current Senior Bowl head Jim Nagy has been relatively quiet on the situation. He is scheduled to do a Senior Bowl radio show on Monday with Randy Kennedy of SportsTalk 99.5 at 2 pm (CST). You can listen here. Perhaps he will be able to answer some of the questions posed here. Perhaps not.