Monday, April 25, 2011

The Unlucky NFL Draft Class of 2011

After months of speculations and predictions the NFL draft will finally begin on Thursday, April 28th. Commissioner Roger Goodell will host the festivities—expect plenty of boos from New York’s finest—and call out the names of first round picks. While sports fans will argue over selections and trades, it’s important to give a nod to the man who conceived of professional league drafts—Bert Bell.

Tired of watching the NFL power brokers of the day—Bears, Packers, Redskins, and Giants—sign all the college stars, Bell proposed a new system to distribute talent. As president of the Philadelphia Eagles, Bell proposed the concept of an NFL draft at a league meeting on May 18, 1935. The goal was competitive parity and after some discussion the league voted unanimously to support this new initiative.

The Boston Globe’s Greg A. Bedard has a wonderful story about Bell in the April 24, 2011 edition, noting this year serves as the 75th Anniversary of the NFL Draft. Here’s a link to the story.

It is no disrespect to Bell as a pioneer if agree with Alan C. Milstein's argument, as presented in this article, that having a college draft at all is illegal.

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While the press and talking heads (quick nod of respect to personal favorite NFL Network and Boston College alumnus Mike Mayock) analyze and grade the teams’ efforts over seven rounds, don’t forget about how this year is unique. Traditionally, as soon as the name of Mr. Irrelevant (the last pick of the draft) is called, the phone lines begin heating up between teams and the agents of those representing “priority free agents” (PFAs).

Often it is better to be a free agent than a late round draft selection as you can choose the team with the best opportunity for someone playing your position. This year, priority free agents waiting for their cell phones to ring will hear only deafening silence. Why? Because the NFL lockout forbids any contact with free agents and that covers not only those NFL players whose contracts have ended but also those hoping to enter the league.

For many of us in the field of “sports law,” professional league drafts are fascinating symbols. As sports fans they hold that special aura of future promise for our favorite teams. However, we also understand the unique laws that forbid MBA graduates to be forced to work in a city that selects them “congratulations you’re now assigned to a consulting firm in Vancouver!!” yet allows a football player to have his rights assigned and told where to report for work.

While you enjoy the pomp and circumstance of this yearly spectacle, don’t forget to tip your cap to Bert Bell and give thought to those PFAs who will be waiting by the phone as brighter minds than mine try to figure out how to get the business of football back up and running.

[Note: A longer version of this article can be found at the Huffington Post here.]