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If NFL doesn’t allow fans at Las Vegas draft, it shouldn’t come

A made-for-television movie called “The Day After” debuted in 1983. It focused on a peaceful Midwestern city trying to recover from being destroyed by a nuclear missile strike.

You know, sort of how American sports fans felt Thursday.

Friday was no different. This wasn’t just some bad dream.

As more events continued to be postponed because of the coronavirus — the Masters golf tournament and Boston Marathon included — the NFL draft remained the narrative’s biggest unknown.

It is scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas. The chances it will be staged as originally planned are the same as those of local pharmacies having a surplus of hand sanitizer.

It could not even come here at all.

Obviously determined to be the last major professional sports league to deliver a major reaction to the crisis, the NFL said Thursday that draft plans remain in place.

Translation: There is going to be one somewhere. End of details.

An awful development

You can likely erase any images of a red carpet area stripped across the Bellagio Fountains, and outlets such as the NFL Network and Bleacher Report have suggested it could still be held here without fans in attendance.

Which would prove beyond awful.

A draft in 2020 without fans is like a San Gennaro Feast without meatballs.

It would elicit the excitement of a tech convention.

This isn’t 1936, when the first draft was held in a Philadelphia hotel room and 90 names were written on a blackboard.

Things are a little more involved now.

Drafts of today are as much — and perhaps even more in some ways — about an electric atmosphere seen at few sporting events than the actual selection of the players.

Draft Town at Grant Park and Congress Plaza in Chicago.

Rocky Steps in Philadelphia.

Lower Broadway in Nashville.

New Year’s Eve II on the Las Vegas Strip?

Hundreds of thousands of fans from all 32 teams, proudly decked in their favorite jerseys, mingling and partying and drinking three days away.

Mostly drinking.

I wrote earlier in the week that once restrictions were put on media covering sporting events, all arenas and stadiums should be stripped of fans as well. I also disagreed with both actions.

And yet in this particular case, no crowds should mean no draft. Not here.

“I don’t think any (prospects) would come with (no fans),” said local NFL agent Steve Caric of Caric Sports Management. “If this (virus) is contained and controlled by April, being someone who is a Las Vegas resident, I would be excited to have the draft here, proud to have the draft here and really hope it happens.

“But if this doesn’t blow over and we’re not in a situation where everyone feels safe to gather in a large area and to travel, then no … I don’t think it will be anywhere without crowds and players.”

Not in a typical sense, anyway.

1-800 Burrow?

One option reported by the NFL Network, should the draft be moved from Las Vegas, would be to conduct it with teams via conference call.

If you’re not going to open the draft to fans and instead have commissioner Roger Goodell bowing to any prospect who actually shows up (no shaking hands allowed in these pandemic times), then send everyone an 800 number and be done with it.

And if things ultimately go by the way of Verizon, it shouldn’t mean the end of Las Vegas welcoming a draft.

Consider: Cleveland is set to host in 2021; Kansas City is in for 2023.

Nobody, at this point, has locked down 2022.

Now, it appears Green Bay might be sprinting down the homestretch of bringing the draft to Lambeau Field two years from now. The idea of incorporating the draft with a new Titletown development that includes a 45-acre park isn’t at all a bad optic.

But should the NFL move this year’s draft from Las Vegas, wouldn’t immediately awarding it with the 2022 event (assuming all logistical questions are answered) be the correct gesture?

At worst, in such a situation, the league should hand Las Vegas the 2024 draft, whose destination is also not set.

I mean, there could be worse situations than holding a draft the year before Allegiant Stadium hosts the Super Bowl. (Wink, wink).

News regarding the coronavirus and how it will affect big events changes by the minute. The NFL could announce its Las Vegas plans on Saturday or Sunday or next week or who-in-the-world knows.

A suggestion: If it really is considering moving forward with the draft here and not allowing fans, it would be better to get everyone a call-in number and dial things up come April 23.

At least then we might have Jon Gruden screaming at a Raiders draft pick, “Can you hear me now, man!”

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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