Notes of Note: NFL Draft; TV Ratings Disparity; Dumb Ideas (continued); NIL Update
Due to COVID-19, no games are being played these days, but there have been a number of interesting developments in the sports world in the last week.
NFL Draft: The NFL Draft brought the usual semi-compelling mixture of the unknown (“who will my team pick?), pleasant surprises, head scratchers, and self-congratulation.
This year’s extravaganza, originally set for Las Vegas, was conducted virtually, and it basically went off without a hitch. Fortunately, since everyone participated from home, we were all spared the embarrassment of watching Commissioner Roger Goodell bear-hugging every first round pick like a sixth grade school girl.
49ers Shine: San Francisco General Manager John Lynch got lots of kudos and high grades from most pundits (including this one) for his two first round picks—South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, slated to replace the departed DeForest Buckner, and Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who should replace the departed Emmanuel Sanders.
Then Lynch completed the trifecta by trading two picks to Washington for Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams, who will replace retiring stalwart Joe Staley.
In later rounds, he plucked three more players who have a good chance of making the 49ers’ roster on Opening Day (whenever that might be): West Virginia offensive tackle Colton McKivitz, Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner and Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings.
All in all, quite a good three days' work for Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and company.
Sky-high ratings: The draft was also the highest-rated pickathon in NFL history, drawing an astounding 8.4 million television viewers. Goes to show how desperate we’ve all become to see anything sports-related.
Likewise, the WNBA Draft, held a week earlier and fueled by the presence of No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon and Orinda-Miramonte H.S., drew its second highest TV audience. The event averaged 387,000 viewers, exceeded only by the 2004 draft.
No, those numbers aren’t typos. They just serve to illustrate the difference in both popularity and perspective between pro football and women’s basketball. The football draft attracted almost 23 times as many viewers as were drawn by women’s basketball. And the WNBA folks were thrilled.
Another Dumb Idea: Some of the folks running college football have floated the idea of playing the 2020 college football season next spring—February through May, with the playoff in June—and then playing the 2021 season as scheduled in the fall.
With the wear and tear on young bodies and the number of serious injuries we're already having, I don't know how in good conscience you can expect 18-22 year old kids to play a full season in the spring and then come back 2 or 3 months later to play another season.
Yet it's not totally surprising. Many conference commissioners and athletic directors sold their souls to TV and the pursuit of the almighty dollar a long time ago. If all you care about is money, the health and safety of athletes is a sacrifice you're willing to make.
It’s similar to how they gave up any pretense of concern for academics when they repeatedly lengthened seasons and started scheduling games on virtually every weeknight.
NIL Update: After years of fighting a losing battle to protect its concept of amateurism, the NCAA announced several months ago that it will permit college athletes to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). The organization directed its three divisions to make the necessary changes to the rules governing NIL benefits no later than January 2021.
Multiple stories published in the last month have suggested that the NCAA is going much further than expected and, instead of being dragged kicking and screaming into the real world, will actually attempt to establish a very liberal and sensible process.
According to the AP’s Ralph Russo, one of the nation’s most respected college football writers, the NCAA’s proposed changes will allow athletes to make their own sponsorship and endorsement deals with a wide range of companies and third parties, from car dealers and restaurants to event promoters and even “individuals deemed to be school boosters.”
That last item is critical to the success of any NIL compensation process. These long overdue changes won’t be successful—or free from rampant corruption—unless the participation of boosters is addressed and guidelines for recruiting are established.
This is one of the more surprising and advanced positions I’ve seen the NCAA take in a long time. To prevent abuses, the organization will set fair market values for various sponsorship and endorsement arrangements, thereby preventing a local Toyota dealer from paying a prized recruit $100,000 to sign a few autographs, and all contracts must be disclosed by the athlete to his or her school.
We’re making progress.