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Commentary: NFL/NBA Drafts should follow MLB's lead

BY IAN MARTIN | JUNE 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Major League Baseball draft occurred last night, to the usual fanfare —or lack thereof. Comparable to the NHL draft in its non-fame, MLB has never really tried to make its draft an event. The ceremony wasn't even televised until 2007, and it hasn't been on an easy to find cable network since a 2008 ESPN2 appearance — last night, it aired on the MLB Network.

Meanwhile, the NFL's and NBA's selection processes are now spectacles. Combines and studio shows lead up to a tickertape evening of gaudy suits and affectionate commissioners.

The lack of hype for baseball's draft is partially due to the immediacy of the fans' connections with players. While Cam Newton started in the first game for the Carolina Panthers after being selected first overall, 2011's first pick is currently pitching for the Bradenton Marauders in the Class A-Advanced Florida Southern League. Even 2010's top pick, Bryce Harper, spent a full year in the minor leagues before his major-league début this spring.

And it's not just top prospects but the number of them.

The number of players in the minors more than quadruples the number of major-league players, with more than half never being called up to the bigs.

Yet, this patient nature about the draft is how all the selections should be treated. While more attachment is involved with NFL and NBA prospects after storied or impressive college careers, one's past doesn't mean future success.

To taper the pageantry of the NFL/NBA drafts would lessen much of the pressure heaped on draft picks. Maybe a more measured draft would reduce the demands on the incoming rookies. The newbies expect multimillion-dollar deals in part because the ceremony puts the players' interests ahead of the teams that draft them.

The NFL and NBA put players in an unfair position by putting the athlete on a pedestal. Fifteen-plus people who haven't played a single minute in the league are celebrated with more attention than a Nobel Prize.

"Everyone tries to make [the NFL draft] a big drama," former Wisconsin OT Joe Thomas told ESPN.com in 2007 after he turned down an invitation to the draft and instead went fishing. "Whoever seems to be having a bad day and slides automatically becomes the focus of all of the attention." Thomas was drafted third overall by the Cleveland Browns.

Thomas sees it correctly — that while the interests of players seem to be in mind of the league, actual draft-day story lines tend to be negative. Who's the last in the Green Room? Will he even start as a rookie? Player's abilities are congratulated, then questioned.

One measure could be to not invite as many, if any, players. The MLB draft hosted two combined players in the past three years, both making the trip on their own accord. This year, five top prospects were invited, a record-high.

It's not all in the league, but the contracts that dictate the hype of a draft.

Noticeably the NBA and NFL selections air on the World Wide Leader at ESPN, while the MLB and NHL now stay on their namesake networks.

This false hype isn't limited to the major sports, either, because of the once-a-year MLS Superdraft — "Super" because soccer's draft is obviously superior to the other four sports — on ESPN2.

If a player wants to attend and be in the spotlight, let him do so, but as always with playing a professional sport, let him do it at his own risk.


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