Imagine if none of the clubs in the English Premier League (EPL) or English Football League (EFL) had junior or youth teams. Instead envisage a situation where all of the talented young footballers in the country go to college or university to develop their skills. Then once a year there is a big televised event where each of the clubs in the EPL and EFL take it in turns to choose which young college/university players they would like to recruit.
Strange as it sounds to football fans in Europe this is exactly what happens in American Football in the USA. It is called the NFL draft and this year’s event took place over three days between 25th and 27th April at Radio City Music Hall in New York. There was greater interest in Britain than usual in this year’s event because of the involvement of 24 year old Menelik Watson who was born and raised in Manchester. Although originally a basketball player, coaches spotted his potential to play American football in the NFL and two years ago he obtained a place at Florida State University.
The NFL draft has seven rounds. Each of the 32 teams has the right to choose one player in each round. An important design issue for any draft system is how to determine the running order in which the teams make their choices. Obviously all 32 teams would like to get the first chance at recruiting the most talented of all the college players. The NFL’s solution to this allocation problem is an interesting one. The team with the worst playing record from the previous season gets the first choice in each round. In the 2012-13 season this happened to be the Kansas City Chiefs who played 16 games and only won 2 of them. The second choice in each round goes to the team with the 2nd worst playing record from the previous season and so on. The final choice in each round goes to the previous year’s Super Bowl champions who in the 2012–13 were the Baltimore Ravens. Another interesting characteristic of the system is the ability of teams to trade draft choices. For example in 2013 the Oakland Raiders traded their choice in the first round (which was the 3rd choice overall) with the Miami Dolphins for their choices in both the first and second round (12th and 42nd choice overall).
What is the rationale for having a draft system? It was first introduced in February 1936 and many commentators have argued that it has been a key factor which has helped to maintain competitive balance in sport. The man behind the idea, Bert Bell of the Philadelphia Eagles, argued that without this type of system the sport would be dominated by the 4 richest teams. He stated that:
Every year, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Four teams control the championship. Because they are successful, they keep attracting the best college players in the open market, which makes them more successful.
Some evidence for the success of the scheme is that in the last 15 years the Super Bowl has been won by 10 different teams. However in 1934, just before the scheme was proposed, there was another major issue for team owners. The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Eagles had become involved in a bidding war for a very talented young player called Stan Kostka. Brooklyn won the battle but had to pay him a salary of $5,000 – the same amount that was paid to the star player in the league. Some people have argued that the real purpose of the draft scheme was to limit the pay of young players by effectively reducing any competitive bidding for their services. Once drafted, a player is expected to join the team who selected him. There may be some protracted negotiations over his final salary and bonuses but the only option open to him if an agreement breaks down is to re-enter the draft the following year. This effectively gives the teams monopsony power which may enable them to restrict players pay to below that of their marginal revenue product. For example although Andrew Luck, the first choice draft pick in 2012, reportedly earns just over $20million from his 4 year contract with the Indianapolis Colts some commentators have argued that his true market value is over $100 million.
The good news for Menelik Watson was that he was finally drafted by the Oakland Raiders and was the 42nd overall player chosen in the draft process. This is the highest choice ever made by a team in the NFL for a player born and brought up in Britain. The final outcome for the league as a whole can be seen on the NFL website.
NFL Draft 2013: Your essential comprehensive guide BBC Sport Simon Clancy (25/4/13)
NFL Draft 2013: Menelik Watson goes to Oakland Raiders BBC Sport, (26/4/13)
NFL Draft makes Menelik Watson Oakland Raiders’ second British player The Guardian, Paulo Bandini (27/4/13)
NFL Draft: Manchester’s Menelik Watson looking to start with Oakland Raiders right away Sky Sport, Paul Higham (28/4/13)
Manchester’s Watson lands dream NFL job after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders Daily Mail, Matthew Sherry (27/4/13)
Abolish the NFL Draft Sports on Earth, Patrick Hruby (25/4/13) .