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Omnipotent NFL flexes its muscles in prime time

There is no explaining the monster. There is no reasoning with it.

You can’t tame it. You can’t persuade it. It does as it pleases.

The NFL is that powerful.

And here you thought I was talking about Ben Roethlisberger.

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback created quite a mess for himself — you know, because that whole thing about purchasing alcohol for underage women and then allegedly forcing yourself onto one in a bathroom guarded by one of your security goon’s tends to paint you as a disturbed and dangerous criminal, even if formal charges again aren’t filed after another incident of alleged sexual misconduct involving you.

But the six-game suspension handed to Roethlisberger on Wednesday for violating the league’s personal conduct policy and the realization Pittsburgh is now shopping its two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback only makes tonight’s event even more compelling than the NFL had hoped.

Make that the mega-event spanning three days, although if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had his way, it would last the next three months with nightly analysis and report cards and updates on where Mel Kiper thinks the yet-to-be-conceived Sam Bradford Jr. will be slotted in his 2035 mock draft. Funny. People would watch it all, too.

You hear Prime Time and think of some investigative television program. Tonight, for the first time, it means the NFL Draft. The red-carpeted bonanza of conjecture and hype, when Chris Berman for once doesn’t have the biggest ego in the room and the over-under of someone cracking a stale joke about Kiper’s hair is four seconds.

Hand it to the NFL. There might not be another entity that drives its brand to unbelievable heights this side of whatever genius has somehow convinced America that Kate Gosselin is someone newsworthy.

You can watch the draft’s first round starting at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN and the NFL Network. You can see Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday beginning at 3 p.m. You can tune in for Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday beginning at 7 a.m. If you aren’t near a television or your DVR has already been scheduled to tape, say, the NBA playoffs and “The Office,” you can listen to the draft on satellite radio. The predraft coverage begins today at 8 a.m. on ESPN.

It’s everywhere.

It’s a scene, man.

I get it. Numbers are numbers. Business is business. This is the league’s biggest day next to the one with Roman numerals. The two-day draft drew a record 39 million viewers last year, a 66 percent increase from eight years earlier. The first round in 2009 was watched by more people than all basketball, hockey and baseball games combined that day.

It’s like three weeks of “American Idol” stuffed into a few days.

“We continue to look for ways to make the draft more accessible to more fans,” Goodell told reporters when announcing the move. “Moving the first round to prime time on Thursday night will make the first round of the draft available to fans on what is typically the most-watched night of television.”

Which proves a few things:

1. The NFL is so confident in its product, deservedly so given the annual spike in draft ratings, that it considers shows such as “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy” as one might a modern-day “Charles in Charge.”

2. Many still have no idea human life exists west of the Mississippi.

Maybe your boss will understand when you flip on the tube at 4:30 today, but a little thing like inconveniencing the entire western part of the country won’t stop the NFL from staging its draft when it feels the most East Coast fans can watch. It’s as if Dick Vitale now runs programming for the NFL.

The league will tell you lengthening the draft over three days will create more interest, more opportunities for trades, more time for general managers to study boards and plot strategy and curse Kiper. Millions of fans will eat it up. They will live and die with each passing second on ESPN’s official draft clock, which will probably have a hand moving around the face of a GMC truck.

But isn’t there such a thing as too much research? The last thing you want some of these GMs doing is thinking too much. I don’t have anything against three days of the NFL Draft. I just don’t see a need for it. I’d rather watch the first few rounds and than that Fordham baseball player doing his circus flip over the catcher Tuesday night over and over again.

(If you didn’t see it, Google now.)

I understand a three-day draft, though. There is a demand for information, and Goodell’s league has no problem supplying it.

The NFL is that powerful.

That popular.

Ben Roethlisberger? … Not so much.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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