For years fans, pundits and leading experts have debated whether the American draft system that has been implemented in NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL would benefit UK based sporting teams and leagues.
What is a draft?
A draft is simply a system used to allocate certain players from their universities to professional teams. In the case of the National Football League otherwise known as the NFL, the draft works by allocating each team a picking position based on their previous season position. For example, the worst team goes first and the best team goes last. In the case of the NFL, the winner of the Super Bowl picks last in the draft.
What would be the benefits of using a draft system in UK based sports?
If UK based sports such as football and rugby embraced an NFL draft-style system in their structure there would be benefits for both teams and fans. For example, one such benefit would be the reduction of top young prospects being hoarded by the bigger clubs. If a draft system was to be introduced into football it would mean weaker teams would be able to recruit high-quality talent that they themselves could develop and the club could sell the player off and receive money that could help the club to reinvest. Some fans would argue that a draft system would also help to close the gap between the top six and the rest of the Premier League, with inferior teams, who before couldn’t compete financially now able to do so through either player sales or developing the players to help them compete allowing for a much more competitive Premier League. This is why the NFL draft was introduced in 1935 to restrain teams payrolls and to help stop dominance over the league.
Another benefit of a draft system being implemented into UK based sports would be the chance for more younger players to receive game time. For example, at the moment only 180 of the 1.5 million players who are playing organised youth football in England at any one time will make it as a Premier League pro. A damning statistics that show the rarity of players making it from academies to full-time Premier League professionals. However, with a draft system in place, it is much more likely that younger players will make it with the players being given more game time to develop their style rather than being hoarded by top clubs and never seeing the professional game.
Why wouldn’t a draft system work in UK based sports?
One of the major problems with the drafting system is a strategic tactic that has plagued American sports called ‘Tanking’. Tanking is simply when a team deliberately loses games without gambling being involved. But why would a team lose games deliberately? Simple, to get a higher pick in the draft. Imagine your team in the Betfred Super League can’t achieve a playoff spot or can’t be relegated there is simply no point to try to win games only to be awarded a second rate draft pick. So instead, your team ‘Tanks’. The introduction of the draft system and the subsequent follow on of ‘Tanking’ could be disastrous for UK based sports teams with teams losing their final few games just to get a better draft pick. This would leave fans furious paying to watch their team lose and ultimately leaving some team’s season over with multiple games left in the season.
Another problem with a draft system being introduced into UK based sports is many clubs would oppose the move as it could ultimately rule out the use of youth academy systems. Unlike in America and Canada were the draft system is more prevalent in most of Europe professional clubs have their own youth setups that find, nurture and develop young talent. If a draft system were to be introduced it would be highly likely that youth academies would be scrapped costing professional clubs millions of pounds and leading to thousands of youth academy staff being out of work. Furthermore, If a draft system similar to the one used in the NFL were to be introduced there would have to be an overhaul of the education system as well with franchises like the NFL using the college system to find players for the upcoming draft.
It’s clear that an NFL style draft system would be beneficial for some parts of UK sports with a clear sign that the current model of youth development is failing and a draft system could help to change that. However, it would lead to a complete overhaul of youth recruitment and would also lead to negative aspects such as ‘Tanking’ seeping into UK based sports.