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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sports Draft

The National Football League draft marks the beginning of the draft
season and rightly so. It is one of the two best professional sports
drafts of the four major professional American sports. Like the NBA,
NFL draftees are well known from their collegiate careers and often
make an immediate impact at the professional level for the teams that
draft them. Similarly, both sports drafts are large events televised
by ESPN. However, the methodology of the top two professional sports
drafts differs.

While the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City
Chiefs performed a coin toss to determine the order of the 2008 NFL
Draft's third, fourth and fifth choices, the NBA consistently
undergoes a lottery system each year there is an NBA draft. In the
National Football League, tiebreakers usually differentiate a lot of
teams in the draft order, but the National Basketball Association
always gambles to determine the number one pick in the NBA draft.

Granted, the NBA draft lottery is weighted in accordance with teams'
records, but such weighting was not always the case. When the lottery
was established in 1985, the seven worst teams in the league were all
given an equal opportunity to win the first pick in the draft.
However, when the worst team in the league, the Golden State Warriors,
was awarded the seventh pick, changes to the draft lottery ensued.
Weighting of lottery pick selections were not instituted until 1990
and in 1994 were tweaked to the specifications in place for the 2008
NBA draft.

As of 1994, the worst team in the league has a 25% chance of winning
the first overall pick in the NBA draft lottery. Subsequently worse
teams have decreasing percentage chances of garnering the first
overall pick in the NBA draft including 19.9% (2nd), 15.6% (3rd),
11.9% (4th), 8.8% (5th) and so on, down to a 0.5% chance of garnering
the first selection for the 14th worst team, according to record.
For as much flak as the NBA may receive for a lottery to determine the
order of picks, there has, historically, also been concern regarding
the amount of weighting. Some people think the exaggerated weighting
encourages poor teams to throw games toward the end of the season - in
order to improve their chances of acquiring a higher draft pick.

However, the NHL utilizes a similar weighting methodology for the
National Hockey League draft lottery. Like the NBA, the NHL's worst
team has a 25% chance of acquiring the number one overall draft
selection of the NHL draft. In contrast to the NFL and NBA, which have
a relatively narrow funnel of sources for their players, the NHL
drafts players from the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League,
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, United States High Schools and
Colleges, as well as internationally.

While Major League Baseball has a narrow funnel of sources for the
prospects for its' draft - high school, college and amateur baseball
teams - MLB draft picks do not typically progress straight to the
major leagues, unlike football, basketball and hockey. In addition to
most MLB draft picks entering the minor leagues before advancing to
the major leagues, many draft picks never step onto a Major League
Baseball field, as a player.

The process MLB draft picks must endure to make it to the professional
level undoubtedly hurts the importance, validity and popularity of the
Major League Baseball draft. Of course, another hindrance to the
importance of the MLB draft is the fact that it is held during the
baseball season - in early June. Professional football, hockey and
basketball hold drafts in preparation for upcoming seasons (or at
least after the prior season) giving fans a taste of the season to
come - filling them with anticipation that is not possible in a
baseball draft that occurs during the regular baseball season.

Furthermore, the MLB draft was not aired on television until 2007, at
which time only the first round was shown on ESPN2, although the rest
was viewable via the internet. The NFL and NBA drafts are the most
reminiscent of monumental events. In addition to being chock full of
players that will make an immediate impact for their professional
sports teams, NFL and NBA draftees are more widely recognized due to
the dearth of players plucked from college football and basketball,
which are both nationally aired on television.
College football bowl games and the NCAA March Madness undoubtedly
boost the popularity of the NFL and NBA drafts. Meanwhile, the NHL and
MLB do not have the luxury of such prominent counterparts. Until that
time, they will not rank as highly in importance as football and
basketball. Hockey, fortunately, allows for draft players to make
impacts at the professional level in a timely manner, allowing the
hockey draft added credibility over the baseball draft, but it still
remains a distant draft to the likes of the top two contenders.

Then there's baseball, which should consistently bring up the rear as
it is not helped by the timing of the draft or length of time it takes
for draftees to make an impact on the professional level. For such
reasons, the baseball draft has rendered itself almost irrelevant. MLB
has much to learn from its' other major sports counterparts.

The professional sports draft season for the big four sports looks like this:

*National Football League (NFL) - Record Based Without Lottery - End of April

*Major League Baseball (MLB) - Record Based Without Lottery - Early June

*National Hockey League (NHL) - Weighted Lottery for Poor Teams - Late June

*National Basketball Association (NBA) - Weighted Lottery for Poor
Teams - End of June

And the Major American Sports Draft Rankings:

1 - NFL; 2 - NBA; 3 - NHL; 4 - MLB