Welcome to the NFL…and primetime TV

I always hear people criticize the NFL as being the “No Fun League”, and sometimes it’s unfair. Other times, it’s right on the money.

Take, for example, the new 2010 NFL Draft schedule, which will now have the draft’s seven rounds spread out over three days. Round 1 will air on Thursday night, April 22 at 7:30, with Rounds 2 and 3 the following night at 6:30, and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday morning at 10.

It’s being pitched as a way to give the common fan more access to an event that is growing in popularity (39 million viewers in 2009). “Moving the first round to prime time on Thursday night will make the first round of the draft available to fans on what is typically the most-watched night of television,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement on Thursday.

Right, because every hard-working fan, who has to work that much harder to pay exorbitant season ticket prices, wants nothing more than to come home near the end of the work week and hear three hours of Chris Berman’s antics.

Let’s get down to the real reason for the schedule realignment. According to an interview by the Philadelphia Daily News with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in June, the league prefers a 12-week gap between the Super Bowl and the draft. With the season starting a week later this year, the 12th Saturday would fall on the first weekend in May, which always plays host to the Kentucky Derby.

The potential conflict with one of America’s most valued sporting institutions clearly wasn’t what the NFL wanted. But it gave the league an excuse to make the process by which college football players get jobs—something that has become exceedingly difficult for their non-athletic classmates in this economy—into even more of a media circus.

Maybe I’m just a traditionalist. NFL drafts, in various forms, date back to 1937, with the modern era of the draft being ordained by the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. The two-day format of drafting was started in 1988 on Sunday and Monday, with the event shifting up one day (Saturday and Sunday) in 1995.

The draft used to mean something to fans, and used to be a way to determine the real fans from the casual ones. It took effort to spend an entire Saturday watching the first three rounds. The only way you knew anything about the players was from watching them play every Saturday in college, or by one of the draft magazines’ player rankings (my favorite was the late Joel Buchsbaum’s in Pro Football Weekly).

Now, it’s merely an off-putting media circus that gives networks an excuse to try out as many new graphics, special features, and musical montages as possible. And the draft’s impact is now felt most by fantasy football fans trying to fill out provisional rosters and drafting strategies, rather than fans worried about what will happen on the real gridiron.

I guess it’s just not as fun anymore.

–Matthew De George ’10

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Filed under College Sports, National Sports

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