The following article is from a featured column from Rich Perkin’s A Ride in a Jeep.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s diabolical (or genius) Plan For Global Domination (PFGD) continued this past week and weekend with the 192 hour (exaggeration), wall to wall, gavel to gavel coverage of the National Football League’s Three Ring Circus and Ouija Board Séance known as the 2017 NFL Draft.
As PFGDs go, Goodell’s is pretty all-encompassing. It’s hard to actually find a place to start when tracing how the league has worked its way into every season of our lives. There’s the NFL Combine, the draft, summer workouts, shows like HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, preseason games, the season itself, the NFL Network, NFL Redzone, Fantasy Football, the Super Bowl (which is now around Easter, I think)… I mean, it’s everywhere, all the time. Because, as a business, they have been on the cutting edge of so much, the league is quick to try new things. Goodell and company are not afraid to be on the cutting edge. Usually. The concussion issue is a glaring example of how sometimes, the business model dictates that progress actually NOT be made. But that’s a story for another day.
Because there is another, less obvious example, and we all just watched it. It’s called “the draft”.
Now, first of all, let me be the first to admit that I am not an expert on the NFL draft. And to be fair, that’s all part of Goodell’s PFGD. He doesn’t want us to be experts, he just wants our eyeballs. And our wallets. And our souls. But I have connections with people who really are experts, and after having conversations with them, I realized something: the NFL very well may be the worst of the major professional sports leagues when it comes to evaluating talent. And it’s all there for us to watch every year during the draft. Because it’s fun, right?
Remember the movie “Money Ball”? You know the one… the one sports movie without Kevin Costner that your significant other watched with you because, well, Brad Pitt. But it’s based on a true story about how Oakland A’s manager Billy Bean changed the face of baseball by changing the way the sport assigned value to what a player could (or couldn’t) do. By using computer programs to run millions of data points, he was able to discover what skill sets actually helped a team win games. For years, the process had been a bunch of old guys sitting in the bleachers watching random games. And that’s great, if your goal is to created a multi-tier league where you have years to let prospects develop. But even then, it’s a bit of crap shoot. But Bean changed all that. The NBA has quietly followed suit. Using statistical analyses known as sabermetrics, both leagues have been able to get more bang for their buck when it comes to developing players and winning games.
Meanwhile, the progressive, forward thinking NFL continues giving guys written tests that are as effective at predicting success as a chimp throwing darts at a dartboard. And like cowboys at an auction, they still have guys walk out on stage in their tighty-whitey’s (usually boxer briefs, but you get the point) so that a bunch of old guys can see if they “look the part”. It’s pathetic. While the rest of the sports world has moved on, Goodell & Co. are still making buggy whips.
But then, who would watch a bunch of computers filter through data that actually matters? That’s zero fun. And convincing us that we are having fun is the cornerstone of The NFL’s PFGD. And so far, it’s working.