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Senior Bowl: Where It’s At Now, Where It May Be Headed

Senior Bowl

The 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl will take place on Saturday, February 3rd. The premier college all-star game will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year. The game has been in Mobile for 74 of those years.

SENIOR BOWL MAKES DEAL WITH THE NFLPA

With the folding of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, The NFL Players Association has decided to throw their sponsorship dollars toward the Senior Bowl. The NFLPA will lend its help to bringing in former Senior Bowl participants to honor as part of the game’s 75th anniversary team. Some of the legendary names on the ballot will include quarterbacks Dan Marino and Brett Favre, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Curtis Martin, wide receivers Terrell Owens and Hines Ward, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Steve Hutchinson, defensive ends Michael Strahan and DeMarcus Ware, defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Bryant Young, outside linebackers Von Miller and John Abraham, inside linebackers Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher, safeties Brian Dawkins and LeRoy Butler, and cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Aeneas Williams.

2024 WATCHLIST

For the 11th straight year, the Reese’s Senior Bowl announced a preseason watchlist. This year, with so many players from last season’s list returning to school, the 2024 edition is over 700 prospects strong. By the time the game rolls around in February, they will trim down from 720 to around 130. Between 85-90% of the players that play in the Senior Bowl will be drafted and 99% will find their way onto a 90-man roster—the SEC (once again) led all conferences with prospects on the list with 178. Ole Miss was the surprising leader with 20 players. Followed by Tennessee with 19.

See the entire list HERE!

WHAT WILL THE SENIOR BOWL LOOK LIKE BEYOND THE 2024 GAME?

That is truly the big question, isn’t it? The NFL has made no effort to hide the fact that they have been throwing their support behind the Shrine Bowl. They moved the game to line up with the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas the last two years. They also initiated a biannual deal where the Senior and Shrine would get full NFL team coaching staffs. However, the NFL teams and scouting staffs didn’t get the memo that the Shrine was supposed to become the top dog. The Senior Bowl continued to get the majority of the top senior prospects over the last two years. Scouts lamented the practice schedule crossover the game weeks had after the move to a mid-week Shrine Bowl. But will the NFL get its wish soon?

If the NFLPA sponsorship was for more than just this year, I would have wiped out my skepticism. However, I can’t shake the feeling that the 75th anniversary of the game may end up being the last hurrah for the Senior Bowl as the undeniable frontrunner amongst collegiate all-star contests.

MY SENIOR BOWL CONNECTIONS

As a local to Mobile, I am connected to this game. It is the main event of my draft calendar. I am a 10-minute drive from my driveway to Hancock Whitney Stadium. I have attended this game for most of the last 36 years. But, after talking to several other local sources they all feel the same dread that I do about the future of the Senior Bowl.

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

First, let’s look at the reasons to be optimistic. As long as Jim Nagy is running the show, I think the Senior Bowl stays at the apex of the mountain. His connections around the NFL have paid dividends in the roster-building process since he came on board. If the NFLPA stays involved beyond the 2024 game…even better. The Draft Starts in Mobile hasn’t just been a fancy hashtag. Business gets done in Mobile. Not as much as in years past though. The entire NFL used to descend upon Mobile for most of the week. Every owner, coach, and scout would all be in town. Mobile isn’t the easiest place to fly into either. Not unlike the outpouring of support to keep the combine in Indy, I could see the same support to keep the Senior Bowl as the prime all-star game destination. 

WHAT COULD CAUSE THE DOWNFALL

CFB CALENDAR

The way the college football schedule continues to expand could cut the player crop down some. We have seen several players opt out of the game after accepting invitations because their season drug on. With the expansion of the College Football Playoff, more teams will play longer, and more players will inevitably opt out. Agents will continue to use that as an excuse to skip the ASG circuit and prep for the Scouting Combine.

LOCAL CONTROVERSIES

The game has also not been without its share of controversies over the last several years. Some are of the Senior Bowl’s own doing, some are not.

STADIUM CHANGE

Several years ago, the game was moved from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in the downtown area to the newer stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama in West Mobile. In my opinion, this was a no-brainer. I would call Ladd Stadium dilapidated but I don’t want to insult dilapidated stadiums. The only thing holding that thing together was the bird droppings. Hancock Whitney Stadium looks like Sofi Stadium in comparison.

Senior Bowl
South Alabama athletics

There are some who believe that moving the game sapped the support from the African-American community that resides in the downtown area. Attendance at the game has not been great since moving to West Mobile either. The stadium capacity is 25K and they haven’t gotten anywhere near capacity since moving out there. This includes the COVID year. Game attendance isn’t the be-all-end-all for an all-star game. The other prominent games have had notoriously bad attendance.

AZALEA TRAIL MAIDS

Then there was the absolutely dumb controversy involving the Azalea Trail Maids being used. There are some who still believe the NFL has gone “woke.” Whatever the hell that means. And by proxy the Senior Bowl along with it. For those that don’t know, two years ago, it is believed the NFL asked that the Senior Bowl not have the Antebellum dress-wearing high school students on the field for the pregame festivities. Whether this is the case or not, it became a whole thing and the Senior Bowl relented after several Mobile city council members threatened funding for the game in a roundabout way. It was another instance of the we hate cancel culture crowd trying to abjectly get something canceled.

Senior Bowl
Adair Freeman Rutledge

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

While no one has gone on record, that I could find, there are some others in the Mobile community who are upset about the perceived “wokeness” of the Senior Bowl for changing the team names from North and South to American and National. Again, this is ridiculous on the face of it. The rosters never lined up geographically anyway. North Dakota State players would play for the South. Texas players would play for the North. The whole thing never made sense. But that has never stopped people from reacting a certain way. As they say “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Players opting out of the game is not helping either. While this isn’t new it feels like it got ramped up to a higher level in 2023. 33 players who started the first practice did not suit up during the game. I really don’t know what can be done to stop this.

MEDIA ACCESS ISSUES

The media access has changed significantly since my first year covering the game in 2016. It took me several years to get credentialed before I was successful. Now, they are doling out 1,000 media credentials for the week, which is an excellent thing in my opinion. However, that has come with some drawbacks. You don’t get the same access to the NFL personnel anymore. The league employees are kept segregated from the media inside the stadium. The hotel is now off-limits for the media. We do not get access to the weigh-in anymore. The informal interactions have been cut to a fraction. The only true access to the players is now at the media breakfast. Which prior to the 2023 version was a complete disaster. Inside the League’s Neil Stratton laid out many of the media complaints back in February.

HOW OTHERS SEE IT

KT Leverett of CFB Nation visited Mobile for the first time in 2023 covering the game. Undoubtedly, his outlook is going to be slightly different. “The overall event was amazing. Being there with people like you and Boomer who have been there before certainly helped a bunch,” noted Leverett. “The biggest pro was the accessibility on day 2 for the luncheon. Being able to have direct access to the players. We were able to make an enormous amount of content and build relationships with the players. Julius Brents and I follow each other on Twitter and he shared the content as well.” Not to be overwhelmed by the surroundings, Leverett also had some issues. “Another con was players leaving mid-week after great performances and a host of players missed the game It’s something I’ll pay closer attention to next year.”

IS 2024 THE END OF THE SENIOR BOWL AS WE KNOW IT?

Obviously, I hope not. I love the Senior Bowl. I believe I have made that crystal clear. From covering the game for Deep Fried Draft and now Draft Countdown, I want to continue to see the best of the best here in Mobile. I want to continue to be the draft analyst for the radio broadcast with IHeart Media. As I said before, I believe if Jim Nagy continues as the executive director, the game will continue to be cream of the crop. If not, I think the Senior Bowl will continue but may fall down the pecking order.

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