The NFL behind Commissioner Roger Goodell is planning to move the NFL Draft to May 15th through the 17th in an effort to have the NFL take over the entire calendar year, having major events in every month for fans to follow. The NFL has long not had an offseason but the playing and non-playing season, but this move eliminates any real down time whatsoever. The appetite for the NFL is unending and Goodell is putting that theory to the test by trying to give fans reasons to never stop watching his sport as well as giving them more reason to watch the NFL Network. There are far more moving parts than simply moving the draft back two weeks as they want to move the Scouting Combine to March and want to push All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game back into February. There are positives and negatives to these proposed moves, but all of this is ultimately a distraction from the real point, which is something Goodell has been chasing almost since he took the job, his white whale; the 18 game regular season.
The plan to move the NFL Draft to May would mean two more weeks of coverage, two more weeks of picking apart college kids in a process that is already too long. An underclassman that declares for the NFL Draft and does not play in a Bowl game is all but forgotten by the time the NFL Draft arrives. Johnathan Hankins for example, Ohio State defensive tackle was recently selected in the second round by the New York Giants. The last game he played was November 24th of 2012. Ohio State was ineligible for postseason play and Hankins was an underclassman and was unable to participate in a post season All-Star game. Five months passed between the time of his final game of football and the NFL Draft. That is absurd already, so the idea of adding even more time just seems silly. Even if they do play in a Bowl game under this proposed move, it is five months between games on the field and going in the draft. The NBA’s system enables them to go from the court to being picked in the draft in four months for kids that not make the tournament; three for those that do.
The proposed plan would seek to move events such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game into February. There are good and bad with this idea. The good is that every playoff team gets the chance to focus all of their attention on these events to scout as well as meet with players in these events. Fewer players should be forced to miss the event due to injuries they were battling during the season, but there is a greater risk of injury for players participating in the event. Players are effectively two months removed from the season and then show up to an All-Star game and are eased into practicing again for one day before they go all out for two days of full contact practice. This could put players unaccustomed to football activities, which are different from working out and training for the draft at more risk to injuries which could have a greater impact on their draft stock. Teams really want to see these kids participate and compete in these events, so it will be interesting to see if there is more participation or less participation as a result of the move.
The plan for 2015 and beyond is to move the NFL Scouting Combine to the middle of March. If the goal is to get more casual fans and viewers for what is evolving into an NFL reality show from Thursday through Sunday, then the NFL is making one rather large miscalculation. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in March; what is going on in March on those exact four days? The NCAA Tournament; the event that owns March, captures the attention and imagination of both hardcore sports fans and casual ones that barely ever pay attention to the sport but fill out brackets for their office pool. The goal to attract fans to buy in to stories at the ‘Underwear Olympics’ is going to backfire badly. The NFL is a juggernaut but the scouting combine would be destroyed by the NCAA Tournament in a head to head matchup for viewers. There are plenty of people who currently think of the combine as appointment viewing, but are not going to miss the buzzer beaters, upsets, and the madness of the tournament to watch guys run around in their underwear. In the middle of February, the combine is not going up against anything critical with Thursday and Friday not competing head to head with any sports while Saturday and Sunday can compete with a few regular season college, NBA and some NHL games; nothing of the magnitude of the tournament.
As for the actual draft, the move to May comes with one notable complication that is a benefit or detriment depending on who is asked; graduation. While it is naive to argue that the degree is the primary reason many of these kids are going to college and that their major is really football, it seems a mixed message to have the NFL Draft take place on the same weekend as graduation. The idea of having a kid picked in the first round Thursday, doing media on Friday, and going to get their diploma on Saturday sounds like great public relations, but the flip side is a kid sitting there in his gown at graduation, the first kid in his family to graduate from college, sitting there listening to the commencement speech with his phone in hand, texting back and forth with his agent and possibly having to get up and leave to go speak with the team that just selected him. Maybe it is old fashioned and archaic at this point, but it seems like the kids should get to really enjoy their graduation with their family and friends and be able to bask in that achievement without having the NFL a part of it. Being picked in the NFL Draft and getting to play in the NFL is a dream these kids have been chasing from childhood and a huge reason to celebrate, but so is their graduation from college, especially for kids that would have had no other way into college, go and thrive there and earn their degree. It just seems like these two events should not be linked and the kids and families should be able to enjoy them separately.
The other angle to this is the fact that it seems like it would put a significant amount of stress on the families. A kid who grew up in a small town in Florida and goes to college in Columbus, Ann Arbor, or Los Angeles, being asked to attend the draft in New York, and trying to juggle all of these issues with their friends and family who are going to attend these events with them. That just seems like an overwhelming amount of stress on these kids, who are already under enough in this whole process.
It will also further put the NFL Draft to the test on television as a move to the middle of May would put it up against the second round of the NBA and NHL playoffs. Perhaps slightly arrogant on the NFL’s part, they are betting on the fact that the sports community will want to consume sitting around and picking players over actual games and in this case, playoff games. And as arrogant as it might be, the NFL has been right; people will consume the draft over games, so they might do it over playoffs games as well.
This would likely move Minicamps and Offseason Team Activities or OTAs back, which players would be happy to see. The other benefit for this move would be that every year, there are schools that work on quarters systems that are still in session and make it so players are unable to attend minicamp; this move would likely allow all players to attend so that would be a benefit to the players and the teams.
All of this takes a backseat to the real point here, which is trying to get to an 18 game regular season. Despite the safety concerns, the injuries, and everything else, Roger Goodell has never given up on getting two more regular season games. It has been moved to the back burner at times, but has never been off the stove entirely. One of the complaints that was initially brought up when the idea was announced was the fact that the NFL would be starting in the middle of August because they did not have space on the other end to add two more weeks. This plan to move everything back two weeks is not arbitrary. Goodell is creating the space to allow the NFL Season to still begin the first week of September but now he can have NFL Football through the middle of February and go right into the NFL Draft process. It remains to be seen if the pushback on the 18 game schedule will remain as strong as it has been, but Goodell is moving his chess pieces around the board to set it up so he can easily make the move. More games equals more money for the owners and the NFL at the end of the day is a bottom line business. Tweaking the rules to try to make a violent game just safe enough for more games and now making room for those games to be placed, it always comes back to his ultimate goal; shoving two more games down the nation’s gullet and seeing just how far he can push the sport.
There are going to be debates on the merits of moving the Draft back and having the idea that NFL fans will never have to take a day off and these moves come with a certain amount of risk, but the NFL is a machine and always looking to expand their influence. The NFL dominates the sports scene and almost any story, no matter how small, can lead Sportscenter ahead of almost anything going on in any other sport. It is just that powerful at this point, but it is definitely pushing the limits as it tries to take on the playoffs and NCAA tournament with various events. Ultimately, the negatives appear to outweigh the positives but the NFL’s track record suggests that it can virtually do no wrong and any misstep would be a small one. The real story here is Roger Goodell again working to push his agenda and try to add to a regular season that simply does need more games. 16 games is perfect but Goodell is determined to get 18.