So, Roger Goodell says the show will go on.
The NFL commissioner, in a league-wide memo distributed on Thursday, told the owners and general managers in no uncertain terms that the annual NFL draft will be conducted as scheduled from April 23-25.
This, for every sports fan in America who’s starved for any morsel of live sports in a time when the coronavirus crisis has the entire globe paralyzed and every sporting event canceled or postponed, was welcome news to all of us.
The NFL draft is the most popular sporting event that doesn’t actually take place in-season, with games played. The first round is one of the most anticipated events in sports.
Day 2 remains intriguing with the second and third rounds, which produce many starters and future stars.
Day 3, however, usually becomes an event for only the true football junkies and nerds, with the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds having mostly backups and long-shot prospects selected.
Given the state of sports we’re in (which is to say no sports), even Day 3 figures to be devoured by even the most casual of sports fans, because who among us isn’t already tired of watching reruns of old “classic” sporting events on TV?
The best idea I’ve heard for the draft came in the form of a TV proposal made by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who called for the event to take place over a seven-day period with one round per day to prolong the live sports entertainment so many of us crave.
On Thursday, Goodell said he believes “the draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans and the country at large.”
And he was right. So right.
The question is this: Is it too good to be true? Sure, the plan is for the draft to take place as scheduled. But will that plan remain the same in two or three weeks, when medical experts are predicting coronavirus cases to reach their peak?
If the medical experts are correct and the peak of cases in the U.S. is still two to three weeks away, that would mean the NFL draft is taking place pretty much during the most dangerous period of this crisis.
On Saturday, news broke that James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks, Rangers and Madison Square Garden, tested positive for the virus. What happens, God forbid, if between now and the scheduled NFL draft Goodell tests positive? What if one or more NFL general managers test positive? Or some of the collegiate players projected to be selected early in the first round?
Will the show still go on then?
This is an alarming reality that the NFL — and all of us — face at the moment. Sure, we’re all clinging to the hope and anticipation that there will be something of live, real-time sporting significance to watch on television for three days in April.
But will it actually happen as scheduled? Some NFL general managers have opposed conducting the draft as scheduled, preferring to postpone it. But their reasoning has had more to do with the disadvantages that include having offseason activities canceled, team facilities closed and not enough time for player physicals and psychological testing.
These problems, however, are trivial by comparison to what this pandemic is doing to the country. The bottom line is this: The playing field is level, with every team facing the same challenges.
Businesses across the nation are carrying on via teleconferences. The NFL GMs can do the same thing. And besides, maybe with a little less information about the prospective draftees, they’ll make better draft decisions by not overanalyzing with the glut of info they usually gather on players.
“Everyone recognizes that the public health conditions are highly uncertain and there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today,” Goodell wrote in the memo.
Make no mistake, Goodell’s motivation to keep the draft on its original date is hardly altruistic. The NFL, which is the only league conducting business right now, stands to make massive money with this draft. Can you imagine what the TV ratings will be for the draft if it goes on as scheduled. Bet on record-breaking numbers.
Hopefully, the league can dole out many of those millions to people who need it most in the wake of this crisis and make more good out of this draft than simply its much-needed entertainment value. NFL free agency has been a godsend the past few weeks, with Tom Brady signing with Tampa Bay and other player movement dominating the sports news and distracting us, if only briefly.
Next up is the NFL draft. If it actually takes place as scheduled.