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The Prime Time Weeknight Draft Is Just One Way Roger Goodell Has Screwed Up the NFL

In this still image from video provided by the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks just before the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 23, 2020. (NFL via AP)

This column is being written on a beautiful spring evening in the Sonoran Desert while I’m sitting outside in my courtyard. The NFL draft is happening on my television but my television is not turned on. Why? Simple: I hate this Thursday night prime time draft abomination.

We are ten years into this prime time stuff and I may have seen a total of fifteen minutes of draft coverage in that time. What was once destination viewing and an annual ritual for me has lost almost all meaning.

Prior to the current format, the NFL draft was a glorious all-day affair that happened on a Saturday. Hardcore fans would block off the entire day as if it were a national holiday. I’ve always lived in the west, so it began in the morning here for me. Still, I loved getting together with other hardcore fans at a bar and watching it. The ESPN crew would be fresh and clear-voiced at the beginning of the day. Mel Kiper’s hair would look like it wanted a show of its own. Breakfast beer would begin to flow and we would all spend the day just full of opinions about every pick, whether we gave a crap about the team or not.

We might not spend the entire day at the bar — pacing is always important in such situations — but we would tune back in later that night to see if Chris Berman still had his voice. It was usually pretty raspy by then but that was how football freaks like myself marked time on Draft Day.

By the time the day was done we had a pretty good snapshot of what almost the entire draft looked like. There was some late-round cleanup still to be done on Sunday, but the most important stuff was taken care of during one marathon broadcast.

I was almost tempted to watch this year because of the remote social-distance broadcast that Goodell is hosting from his basement. My curiosity was piqued for a brief moment and then it died. Fortunately, my friend Jeff Reynolds did watch and write about it.

My misgivings with Goodell go back to almost the beginning of his long tenure. From the moment he got into office in 2006, it seems to me as if his unrelenting mission is to suck the life out of professional football. I firmly believe that, if left on the job for another fifteen years, NFL games will consist of a few minutes of offensive players running through cardboard standees of defensive players, followed by forty five minutes of television commercials, repeated for six hours.

I understand how the business works. I’m aware that football — both professional and college —  is inextricably linked to the almighty television dollar. That’s great for the players and only occasionally good for the fans. There are more games than ever available to watch for anyone who wants to pay. I freely admit that I’m borderline addicted to NFL Red Zone during the regular season.

The downside is that more and more — especially in the Goodell era — the NFL seems to be playing more to the camera than for the fans.

Television coverage makes watching a game live brutal sometimes. I haven’t been to an NFL game in a while, but I have season football tickets for the University of Arizona. In olden times, only schools that were winning got to be on television. Now every UofA game is televised. It seems like half of every game is spent watching the television official stand alone on the field. It’s bad enough that my team has been awful for five years, but now it takes longer to watch them lose.

Goodell wants to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games — an idea no NFL fans I know are clamoring for. It’s still a violent game, and players are pretty beat up after 16 games. An extra two regular season games might really dilute the quality of play by teams who make it deep into the playoffs. The Super Bowl teams might be too beat up to suit up for the game. Goodell will probably come up with some genius idea like having a six-week delay between the league championship games and the Super Bowl, pushing the NFL season into baseball season.

I am also aware that the owners sign off on Goodell’s madness. There is plenty of blame to go around but the fact remains that almost every change I’ve hated in NFL has come on Goodell’s watch.

Like playing games in London and Mexico City.

Sure, the league makes a lot of curiosity money off of expatriates and the locals, but it’s done at the expense of the fans here. One of the teams in these international games has to be the “home” team, which means that season ticket holders of that team are being screwed out of one game that season. In baseball, where there are 81 home games, this is no big deal. In football, where there are 8, it most certainly is.

The London games are the worst. They usually air at about 5 or 6 in the morning my time. As I used to be fond of saying on Twitter: “Yeah…no.”

Despite all of these misgivings, I do hope the NFL plays this year. The way I reckon, there isn’t much time left before Goodell begins requiring defenses to wear ascots and carry hankies, while bowing to the quarterback, addressing him as “Milord” and requesting permission to tackle.

Absurd maybe, but have you looked around at the world lately?