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Tonight is the biggest night of the NFL offseason and even amid the chaos of a (non) lockout and confusing legal order, the show will go on.Putting aside the current limbo state of the league’s rules, this lockout mess has at least few people wondering if the NFL should even hold a draft. Ever.
The player’s current lawsuit against the league sites the draft as one of several anti-trust violations committed by the NFL.
The argument, put more simply, is that any player (even rookies) should be able to sign with any team, any time they want to.
That’s the free market, right?
While most people have just assumed that stance to be a legal/bargaining ploy by the players and their lawyers, at least one agent (not surprisingly) thinks this is the way things should be all the time.
The argument for the draft (and restricted free agency) is that it creates competitive balance, but NFL agent Brian Ayrault says that’s a fallacy. He says competitive balance doesn’t really exist and that “The success of teams is determined by good ownership and scouting.”
But not every team has good ownership and scouting. Even if they did, certain owners and teams are always going to be better than others. Relying on a totally unrestricted free market would certainly drive more than one team out of business.
ProFootball Talk does a pretty good job of eviscerating Ayrault’s arguments as well — the NFL is unquestionably the most competitive of the four major sports — without even getting into the fact that the NFL’s rules also raise the bar for players at the bottom end of the pay scale. (A world without salary rules could mean guy benchwarmers making little more than minimum wage. Not everyone can be Peyton Manning’s agent.)
However, this debate also underscores two important points about the lockout and pro sports.
Despite what Roger Goodell pretends, the lawyers arguing against these rules don’t really want them to go away, but that won’t stop certain players from questioning why they have to play under them.
Most don’t remember a world where Dallas and San Francisco dominated the league year-in and year-out, and only see the negative effects the rules have on their earnings. You see it occasionally when players make comments about indentured servitude.
However, it’s also a reminder of how pro sports are unlike any other industry in the world. The 30 franchises may be “competing” against each other, but the only way for each individual business to succeed is for all of them to succeed, at least to some degree. When franchises go bankrupt or relocate or flounder for years without success on the field, then even the winning teams begin to suffer. (As do employees, who lose jobs or see their wages cut.)
Yes, a world without a draft would be good for some players. No salary caps would certainly make a few elite superstars (and their agents) filthy rich. But that money is only available to them because of the massive success of the league as whole.
Messing with that (as the current labour strife is doing) hurts everyone.