May Draft A Winning Move For NFL
As it turns out, the USFL was right. There is an appetite for spring football.
Not football games, necessarily, though if the NFL decided to play those, people would watch. But there absolutely is room for football conversation to continue throughout the calendar, and the NFL is happy to oblige.
The reports Monday out of its spring meetings is that the NFL plans to shuffle its second-season schedule (there’s so much interest, it hardly feels right to refer to the five non-game months as an “offseason.”) The plan, as reported, would be to move to NFL Draft to mid-May, beginning in 2014. The following year, the annual Scouting Combine would move from February to mid-to-late March, meaning that it would take place after the start of the new league year, which is the start of the free agency shopping season.
The new second-season calendar would look something like this:
- January: Playoffs
- February: Super Bowl
- Early March: New league season begins
- Mid-to-late March: Combine
- April: Draft buildup (a sort of month-long Oscars-style red carpet preview)
- May: NFL Draft
Two months later, training camp begins, and presto! You have a year-round, all-you-can-eat NFL buffet. And you thought the Mayans knew how to work a calendar.
The reason given for this move is a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall. Right. The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball can’t touch football’s stranglehold on the sports fan’s attention, but the NFL doesn’t dare mess with the Rockettes.
A double booking may have been the excuse the league has been looking for to make this move. For years, the NFL has been searching for new worlds to conquer. They’ve long set their eyes on the European market. China is next. Turns out the next uncharted territory in which to plant its flag was the spring.
And who’s going to question the shrewdness of such a move? The NFL moved the Super Bowl to February. It’s never been bigger. They moved the opening night of the season to Thursday, it’s a new September staple.
They moved the first round of the draft – the sports world’s ultimate reality show – to Thursday nights at prime time, and it became immediate must-see TV. The NHL is so jealous of the ratings the draft gets on Day Three Saturdays, it should consider inviting the NFL to hold rounds four through seven at center ice at Madison Square Garden during a Rangers playoff game. Mr. Irrelevant would still have the highest Q rating in the building.
Moving the draft to May is a PR move made entirely to serve the best interests of The Shield, but there are other parties who are beneficiaries of the inevitable bonanza. NFL veterans benefit, as the earlier start to free agency means teams will be spending money sooner. The teams benefit from having as much as a month more to evaluate prospects.
The Combine (and its broadcast home, the NFL Network) stands to benefit, if the extra time after the end of the college season entices more prospects to participate in all the drills.
And the prospects themselves, who will have more time to heal up from the season and gear up for the Combine, will benefit.
Until they become rookies. To a prospect, a longer pre-draft period means a longer window to show off their potential, especially at the contact-free catwalks that their on-campus pro days have become.
But once they get drafted, their job is to get ready for their rookie season. Under this new calendar, they’ll have several weeks less to prepare themselves. You think Geno Smith is going to struggle to learn a new offense in the current system, how much might getting the playbook a month later set him back?
In the end, moving the draft to May will prove to be another winning move by a league that makes no other kind. Even in the spring, the NFL wins.
Just ask the USFL.
What about tradition? For most of my life, the Draft was an all-day Saturday and Sunday event. Now it's prime time, filled with PR moments like the daily military march. It's over-done. In trying to maximize profits and viewership the league is bucking the traditions long-time fans care about. We've all talked about celebrating our 'Christmas in April' - since when is it OK to move Christmas?