Two Football Events…

Two recent events in the world of football should be sources of happiness to football fans. Those same two events may – on the surface – seem to make the job of sportswriters and columnists more difficult, but that is really not the case. Consider the first of these two events – the completion of the NFL Draft.

The NFL has managed to take one of its more mundane events of the year and has turned it into a three-week event of high drama and intense focus. The draft generates more interest in NFL activity than anything except actual regular season or playoff games. I believe that the passion that surrounds the draft is based in the fantasies that the fans of various teams create for themselves about the mythic powers and abilities of the young men who are in the marketplace for selection. And, I do mean that people create fantasies about players about to enter the NFL.

The NFL Draft is an inefficient process which attempts to improve the unsuccessful teams from last year more than it will improve the successful teams from last year. This creates the language of “leveling the playing field” and “bringing competitive balance” to the league. Technically, the entire concept of a draft, which binds a player to negotiate his contract with only a single club, is legally flawed and survives only because the players through their union come to collective bargaining agreements, which contain a sanction for the draft and rules about how it shall proceed. Last weekend, the three-week saga and media bonanza of the draft came to an end.

Football fans can now focus on their created fantasies about their new players and how great those players are going to become; simultaneously, those fans will no longer be burdened with reading and contemplating daily – if not hourly – columns on “mock drafts” and “players rising on draft boards” and “falling players”. The absence of those columns is truly a blessing because they are based on completely fallacious assumptions.

No player rises or falls on draft boards of teams – which are the only draft boards that have any standing in reality. The teams do their own analyses and have various players in slots on their wish-lists. What far too many writers/commentators try to do is to guess which team has which player in which slot. Then, when a writer/commentator feels the need to change his guess, he portrays that change as the player moving up or down on draft boards. Nonsense; what it means is that he now feels that the guess he made previously is no longer as good a guess as he can make at this moment and so he is changing his mind. Absent something like a felony arrest or a serious injury in a motorcycle crash, the player probably did not move even a bit on the draft boards of the various teams.

Missing out on those commentaries should be blessing for football fans. Those “rising/falling” commentaries and columns are merely arrogance and cover-ups by the folks who do Mock Drafts. Such columns/commentaries are not much more than detritus in the space-time continuum.

Now, many of the mock draft writers will have the time to focus on assigning grades to the draft – another meaningless exercise until at least two years have passed and perhaps three years. Fans will have created their incredibly positive fantasies about every pick their favorite team made and will then expect the player to achieve what the fantasies have predicted. When it does not happen – as it often will not happen – they will blame coaches or the player himself for “not using him correctly” or “not having the proper work ethic” or some such excuse. Rarely if ever will the fan recognize that the scout who saw the kid play in college overestimated what he was capable of doing at the NFL level and/or the GM who integrated all the information from all of the scouts did a poor job of realizing what the player could and could not do. Therein lie the roots of the vast majority of draft flops.

Here is the way I would characterize a failed draft pick:

    A draft pick is like the beautifully wrapped Christmas present that a child gets in the mail from an aunt in a far away city that he rarely if ever sees. He had not even thought she would be giving him a present this year; the package looks great; it is enticing; it is hefty; it does not rattle when he shakes it gently to see if he can guess what is inside. He just knows deep down inside that he is going to love this present – - – and then he opens it and it is a tablecloth. That is a failed draft pick…

The other piece of good news for football fans is that the BCS intends to move to a four-team playoff system in 2014. Plans for this change will be put to the university presidents for ultimate approval later this summer. These folks in the BCS have spent so many years arguing that a football playoff would be deleterious to the sport and would demean the regular season that they could not bring themselves to hang a “playoff label” on their new idea. They are calling it a “four-team event” not a playoff. To paraphrase Willie Shakespeare:

    A rose by any other name would get a dose of 2, 4-D

One report said that a possible implementation of this playoff format would be to play two of the playoff games in two of the major bowls and then offer up the championship game to the bowl committee that bids the highest for it. That causes me no heartburn at all; but if that idea is even considered by university presidents, think about the hypocrisy they will have to swallow to deal with it while still maintaining that college athletics is all about the joy of competition and about the student-athlete in his most noble incarnation…

Some folks wanted to have a playoff with a different format and perhaps as many as 16 teams (far too many in my view) and this proposed system may not be perfect. However, it is better than the current system for crowning a national champion in college football and the current system is better than the one that preceded it. The trend is in the right direction; fans should be happy about that.

Some might worry about what columnists and commentators will do to come up with material in November and early December if the stock story lines about what team got snubbed or screwed in the struggle to see who would play in the championship game(s). Fear not; with a four-team tournament, there will be ample opportunity to argue over which team “should have gotten” that final playoff slot. That story line will never die…

Consider the “who got a tournament snub” story line for March Madness. It is a staple of the day after Selection Sunday. The good news in March is that the “tournament snub” story only has a useful life of 23-36 hours because the stories have to change quickly into which double-digit seeded team will be the bracket-busting Cinderella for that given year. The “tournament snub stories” are always there but their shelf life is small. Not so in football. The teams will be named in the second week of December and the games will not happen until New Years. Fear not, there will “football tournament snub” stories that will be armpit deep by the time the games take place on the field.

Greg Cote had it about right in the Miami Herald this weekend:

“Bowl Championship Series officials, meeting in Hollywood, agreed to institute a four-team playoff as soon as 2014. College football fans immediately were feeling pangs of regret at the notion they’ll be denied the joy they get every year complaining about the BCS.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

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  • Joe  On May 3, 2012 at 10:47 am

    An exception to your statement on misplaced draft blame has to be here in Miami where GM Jeff Ireland is vehemently reviled by all fans, columnists, and radio mouthpieces as the source of the Dolphins woes. As much as he might be to blame (along with Parcells et al), I think the players could share in that accountability a lot more.

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On May 3, 2012 at 9:31 pm


      I never want to absolve the players of blame for on-field underachievement or failure. In general, coaches and players take more heat than do GMs. You cite the situation in Miami and I live in the DC area where fans would gladly have ridden Vinny Cerrato out of town on a rail – - if they had the opportunity to tar and feather him before giving him that ride. But in many towns, the GM tends to escape fan venom.

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