A 4-day draft? C’mon, NFL, let’s go at it for 40 days, 40 nights

May 2, 2014 

Some ESPN analysts were discussing the NFL draft the other day. This is not unusual. The 2014 NFL draft has been the most talked-about sports conversation topic since, well, the 2013 NFL draft.

Draft pundits usually are as easy to tune out as the insipidly soft jazz you might hear in an airport terminal, but something was said on this particular predraft show that caught my attention.

“When we come back,” viewers were promised, “we’ll explore what the Indianapolis Colts might do when they pick No. 59.”

The Colts surrendered their 2014 first-round selection to the Cleveland Browns for running back Trent Richardson, so I understand what the Colts might do when they pick No. 59th is important in Indianapolis. But, still …

Ten days before the Colts were scheduled to be on the clock, ESPN was devoting an entire segment of a show on the 59th pick.

Which got me wondering: With commissioner Roger Goodell apparently interested in turning future drafts from three-day marathons to four-day marathons, how much is too much?

The answer, of course, is that when it comes to the NFL draft, there is no such thing as too much. Fans feast on the speculation, and for cable-sports television networks challenged to put something on the screen besides sports events (which are expensive to produce and often draw negligible ratings), talk is cheap.

When I learned of Goodell’s ideas about expanding the draft,

my inclination was to wince. The commissioner, it was obvious, had spent too much time on the Radio City Music Hall stage to notice the sheer tedium of watching at home.

But now that I think about it, Goodell’s vision of a four-day draft is far too modest. Four days? Times that by 10, Roger. Go ahead and do the math. See what you get?

What you get is a draft that keeps fans transfixed for 40 days and 40 nights, which provides a cool biblical parallel for a league that’s become America’s version of a secular religion.

A draft of 40 days and 40 nights could work like this: In the middle of April — say, April 15 — the team owning the No. 1 overall pick would spend eight hours on the clock before announcing its decision at, say, 5 p.m. on the West Coast, which is prime time on the East Coast.

Imagine eight hours of tension inside the war room. Imagine eight hours of Twitter reports, followed by clarifications of Twitter reports, followed by denials of Twitter reports. Imagine all of this drama, eight incredible hours, played out on TV.

After the selection is made, there’d still be a four-hour window, all the way to midnight on the East Coast, to analyze it, debate it, acquire fan reactions on it and learn a comprehensive personal history of the draft pick from field reporters assigned to talk with his friends, relatives and various grade-school teachers and high-school coaches.

On April 16, the team with the second overall pick repeats the process: Eight hours of anxiety, four hours of feedback.

The first round continues like this for each of the 30 remaining selections. After a month, I’m figuring nobody has much of a gripe if the second round is condensed into three days, or if it only takes a week to wrap up rounds three through seven.

An overhaul of this enormity wouldn’t be easy. Critics will point out that a 40-day draft beginning April 15 doesn’t conclude until late May, costing coaches precious time during their hurried, frantic preparation for the season opener in September.

And what about those who attend the draft as spectators? Booing and hissing the choices of obscure college players from small schools is a fundamental right with a rich tradition. Arranging to spend three or four days in New York City is one thing, but arranging to spend 40 days and 40 nights in New York City can only be done on the credit card inside Warren Buffett’s wallet.

A solution?

Instead of requiring fans to go to New York for the draft, let the draft come to them. When it’s Seattle’s turn to make a first-round pick, for instance, fans could converge upon the Seahawks headquarters in Renton or, better yet, a downtown Seattle hotel with a spacious ballroom.

No, wait, that’s not yet better yet. A downtown Seattle football stadium seating 67,000 spectators is better yet.

Ah, another pitfall: If the Hawks decide, after eight hours, to trade their first-round pick for a future first-round pick and beef up on their middle-round picks instead, the prevailing mood would be one of disappointment.

So what? When you buy a $150 ticket to a game, there is no guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Same with buying a $150 ticket to the draft.

There’s money to be made by the NFL from the draft, crazy money, and Goodell is taking only baby steps when he suggests a four-day draft might be preferable to a three-day draft.

Broaden that horizon of yours, Roger. Look at the draft in terms of 40 days and 40 nights, a sort of test run for an NFL draft that inevitably will be extended to two months, four months, six months.

As for that 59th draft pick owned by Colts? The consensus, I recall, was it will be an offensive lineman, unless it’s a safety, or a linebacker, or maybe a wide receiver.

Stay tuned.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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