Friday, May 9, 2014

NFL Draft Lament

"The draft used to be an event. Now it’s just another random ESPN program on a weeknight."

Of the four main American sports, the longest offseason belongs to the most popular, football. That sport features the most exciting offseason event in the annual NFL draft, a weekend celebration of football that helps fans cope with the six long months without their beloved sport. This glorious spectacle, however, is not what it once was, thanks to an over-zealous commissioner who seems hell-bent on leaving a lasting mark on the league. Be it positive or negative.

I have fond memories of the NFL draft. I recall waking up those Saturday mornings full of anticipation after months of buildup, usually nervous about all the ways the Jets could screw up their picks. I remember meeting up with friends sometime around 11:30 so that we wouldn’t miss the start at noon. It always seemed to be a beautiful spring day outside, appropriately reflecting the boundless optimism each team’s fanbase feels heading into the draft. The day would be filled with chips, hot dogs, burgers, and later on, beer. The first 3 rounds would not end until the sun set. It was simply a marvelous day, and an important one at that. All teams’ futures depend on how well they draft. This importance added to the already exciting day. Alas, this entire experience has undergone immense change since Roger Goodell decided to fix something that wasn’t broke. The NFL Draft now takes place over 3 days, Thursday and Friday nights, and Saturday afternoon.

This change of format has had profound changes for the actual participants, not just the fans. Separating what used to be ‘Day 1’ of the draft (rounds 1-3) into 3 days without a doubt affects teams’ strategies. I always felt that the transition from the first to the second round was maybe the most important point in the draft. Some first rounds talents end up falling into the second round, which makes picks 33-40 (give or take) crucial for teams potentially trading up to get a target that fell. Because the draft used to continue until the first 3 rounds were complete on Saturday, this moment in the draft required quick thinking and deft movements on the part of the 32 clubs. The savvy teams would get their guys, while the inept front offices would be left scratching their heads. Now, everyone gets a full day to regroup and evaluate the scenarios present. Some may prefer this way, but for me, the hectic start to the second round was a huge plus of the old draft format.

The biggest impact, though, is of course on us fans. The Saturdays I described above are no more. The 1st round now takes place on Thursday evening, and guess what. I will be at work during the whole thing. I won’t get to hear Mel Kiper recite the players’ stats like he’s an encyclopedia. No kicking it with friends with snacks and a few beers. This is the second year in a row that this has happened, and now those happy draft images are becoming mere memories. The draft used to be an event. Now it’s just another random ESPN program on a weeknight. Shame on you Roger Goodell.

This blog was originally published on 4/26/12


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