Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 25, 2010

Sorry But The NFL Draft Isn’t A Sporting Event

Boston’s sports pundits were all aflutter on Friday over the four different events competing for attention that evening. The Celtics were in Miami for game three of their first-round playoff series against the Heat. The Bruins were in Buffalo with a chance to close out their first-round NHL playoff series and send the Sabres to an early vacation. The Red Sox were home at Fenway, opening a weekend series against the hapless nine from Baltimore. And as a result of various trades, the Patriots had several picks in the second and third rounds of the NFL draft, being broadcast live in prime time for the first time ever.

Okay, I like to think of myself as a pretty good fan. A follower of many sports, reasonably well-informed, certainly passionate about the teams I love. On the other hand, I do have a life outside of sports, and you’ll never hear “Mike from Portsmouth NH” calling in to rant on some sports talk show on the radio. So maybe I’m just not hardcore enough to be able to grasp the full four-way conflict that the pundits were feeling.

I certainly understand the issue with the NBA and NHL playoffs. Both winter pro sports always move into playoff mode as spring arrives. Fans in any metropolitan area fortunate enough to have an entry in both the basketball and hockey tournaments do indeed face a delicious dilemma; one that fans in less fortunate cities can only regard with envy. Have pity for instance on the poor folks in the New York City area. Despite having two basketball and three hockey franchises to choose from, their only post-season rooting interest was the New Jersey Devils. It really constitutes piling on to point out that for the third year in a row the Devils were quickly bounced out of the playoffs by the Broad Street Bullies.

So yes, I get the part about having to choose between competing playoff contests. I have reason to believe that years ago it was having to choose between the Celts and the B’s that led an MIT engineer to invent the television remote control so one could change channels without leaving one’s seat.

I also understand how a Red Sox game adds to the conflict. Though they are off to slow start (including an ominously bad 1-6 against East Division rivals Yankees and Rays, with all of those games at Fenway); the Great Game gang is without a doubt Boston’s most beloved team. If the Sox are in action, Red Sox Nation will want to be watching.

But the NFL draft? On television in prime time? Or for that matter, at anytime? As television programming goes, the NFL draft doesn’t even make good radio.

Not that the draft itself isn’t important. Certainly I was interested in seeing who Washington would select with the fourth overall pick. Having recently traded for a franchise quarterback in the person of Donovan McNabb, would the Redskins act as they typically have in the Dan Snyder era and trade all of their picks for the next five years in order to move up to first so they could select quarterback Sam Bradford? What a pleasant surprise when they instead acted like a real grown-up football team and not only stayed at number four but actually drafted to fill a need, picking offensive tackle Trent Williams from Oklahoma. And I was curious to see just how many of this year’s picks the Patriots would trade away for multiple picks in future years. I am pretty well convinced that Bill Belichick’s ultimate goal is for New England to own all 64 picks in the second and third rounds of the 2015 draft.

But I could easily learn whatever I wanted to know about this year’s draft without ESPN devoting hours and hours of live programming to it. But in Roger Goodell’s NFL bigger is always better, so the show went on. Of course, since much of the draft consists of waiting for the team “on the clock” to decide on and then announce its selection, the show was mostly hours and hours of ESPN’s talking heads bloviating about who would be selected next or why the most recent selection was the absolutely right or wrong choice for the franchise making the pick. From what I saw, and believe me I didn’t hang around for all that long, when engaged in the former they were about as likely to reveal what they didn’t know as they were to display any keen insight. And the instant analysis which this kind of show inevitably generates, with such nonsense as team by team, round by round report cards, is idiotic.

Put aside the fact that a goodly number of the 224 young men selected over seven rounds will never play a single down of regular season NFL football. Even for those who do, draft-day “analysis” of their likely success is little more than sheer guesswork. Or has everyone forgotten can’t-miss quarterback Ryan Leaf, the number two overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in 1998? Well actually, everyone pretty much has forgotten Leaf, whose “can’t-miss” career missed badly, and ended after only four seasons. On the other hand, no one paid much mind when the Patriots used their sixth round pick in 2000, the 199th overall, on the University of Michigan’s quarterback. Some kid named Brady. As sixth round picks go, that one has worked out reasonably well.

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