New York The NFL Draft is big.
It could be getting bigger. Much bigger.
The NFL inched its annual draft toward prime-time last weekend, starting the first round at 3 p.m. Central time. Next April, the NFL is considering giving the first round its own day — and a prime-time television slot.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday the league was discussing the possibility of staging the first round of the 2010 draft on a Thursday evening, the second and third rounds Friday evening and the final four rounds Saturday.
The event would remain the cable television domain of ESPN and the NFL Network.
“We’re more confident now, with the timing of the first round, that it can fit a 31⁄2-hour window,” Goodell said. “We think it can be very appealing from a fan’s standpoint and an audience standpoint.
“We’ll talk to our teams about it. We have to see what impact this would have on them. But I think it has potential.”
The NFL has been pondering such a move for a few years, but there was one major obstacle — those cumbersome six-hour first rounds. Goodell and the league had to figure out a way to shrink the opening round to fit into an abbreviated prime-time window.
In 2007, teams were given 15 minutes apiece to make their first-round selections. The round lasted six hours and eight minutes. Too long.
Last year, the NFL reduced the time in the first round to 10 minutes per pick, shaving almost 21⁄2 hours off the round. This year, the first round lasted three hours, 23 minutes, fitting the targeted 3:30 time frame.
The NFL is ratings gold for television networks, so prime-time has been beckoning the draft all along. The opening day of the draft is fast becoming the second-biggest sports day of the calendar year after the Super Bowl.
That’s logical. Not only does it attract the interest of the 32 NFL fan bases in the nation’s largest cities, it attracts the fan bases of hundreds of colleges that play football. It’s their players who are drafted, so fans of Florida, Ohio State and Southern Cal also have a vested interest.
Not to mention small colleges such as Norfolk State, Stillman and St. Paul’s which also had players drafted over the weekend.
So the NFL Draft is a marriage of college and pro football — “the two most popular sports,” Goodell said.
Invite nine of the top prospects to New York for the first round, as the NFL did last weekend, and you inject drama into the mix. The cable networks trained their cameras on Mississippi tackle Michael Oher as he sweated through 22 selections before his name was called out by the Baltimore Ravens.
The first round of the NFL Draft was made for television — prime-time television.
“It’s kids realizing their own dream,” Goodell said. “People are so infatuated with the reality aspect of it. Are their teams going to improve? Should they get a quarterback? Should they trade up? It combines so many great elements that people love to talk about.
“Today, in this town, people are talking about the Jets and if they paid too much to move up for Sanchez,” he said, referring to Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez. “Is Sanchez the guy?
“If people are talking about football, that’s great.”