What If There Were No Drafts in Sports?

I don’t know if this is standard around the world, but in the US, nearly every professional team sport features a draft every season. The NBA and NFL in particular make a huge deal about the draft, with a huge spotlight on the coveted top picks.

I’ve always taken for granted that this is just how sports work. After all, how else can losing teams have a chance at rebuilding and having a chance the following year? Plus, aren’t the athletes selected at the top of the draft–the best of the best–rewarded with the biggest contracts?

However, thanks to a recent article on Andscape, I realized that the concept of a draft for people is pretty weird and possibly quite archaic.

Think about the time before your first full-time job. You applied for the job, selecting the company you wanted to work at, and they agreed that you were a good fit.

Imagine, though, if that wasn’t the case. Instead, you indicated that you were eligible for a job, and if a company chose you, you could either (a) say yes and move to that company’s location or (b) wait another year to be considered by other companies. It really isn’t much of a choice at all, right?

That’s what happens in sports drafts. The team chooses you, not the other way around. Granted, you’re paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living, which is great, but the draftees have hardly any agency or leverage.

On top of that, there are agreed-upon standards for paying newly drafted players. As the article says, “If I as a lawyer wanted to go out and all the law firms in the world said, ‘The maximum that we’re going to pay any lawyer is $100,000,’ that would never fly.”

The article proposes the shocking alternative: Abolish the draft. Just get rid of it. Any player without a team is a free agent, with teams pitching to them and players choosing their favorite offer.

Other than team parity, the main issue I see with this is payroll. Some teams have considerably more money than others. But that’s why some leagues have spending caps. Plus, there’s risk that comes with any a player going pro. There are plenty of players whose collegiate success doesn’t translate into the professional environment. The Lakers could spend a billion dollars attracting the 5 best players, but maybe only 1 or 2 of them are stars. And would 5 stars really want to share the court instead of getting their own spotlight?

I’m pretty sure that international soccer leagues don’t have drafts, and that seems to be working well for them. It would be fascinating to see an American sports league try it for a few years just to see how it goes.

What do you think? Are drafts for the best or not?

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