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Draft boom: New three-day format a success and here to stay

NEW YORK -- Predictably, the NFL Draft's new three-day format drew mixed reviews from the people who actually did the drafting.

For all of the general managers and coaches who liked the idea of having additional time to formulate strategy and make trades, there were just as many who complained that the event simply lasted too long.

The naysayers didn't love the idea of a process that once was accomplished in two days being stretched an extra 24 hours just for the sake of allowing it to become two nights of primetime programming on NFL Network and ESPN. San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary, for one, noted that all the change will do is allow critics greater opportunity to second guess the picks and hammer away at those who made them.

Singletary was right. The critics have had ample opportunity to criticize, and they've taken full advantage of it.

But wasn't that the whole point? To give the draft greater media exposure? To raise its profile on the nation's sporting landscape? To boost TV ratings and the advertising profits?

On that basis, the new format was a huge success. TV ratings for Thursday night's first round soared by 30 percent over 2009. The league issued nearly 1,000 media credentials, about 200 more than a year ago.

Draft conversation also dominated sports-talk radio throughout the country in the days leading up to the draft, and for a full day between Round 1 Thursday night and Rounds 2 and 3 Friday night. Although playoffs in the NBA and NHL are in full swing, it felt as if the NFL draft was the only thing going on.

For a sport whose season supposedly runs from September through February, that is pretty remarkable.

This was a case of the NFL benefitting from a willingness to think outside the box, to not be afraid to break from tradition and shake things up in a big way. It also was a case of the league's business concerns taking precedent over everything else. The people on the football side had no choice but to accept it.

"They're not the ones who should be driving this thing," one NFL official said.

And as one coach -- referencing an old saying that another coach once told him -- added, "When something you don't like is inevitably going to happen to you, just sit back and take it."

The gains realized from spreading the draft over three days are strong enough that it's a fairly safe assumption that we'll see something similar next year and beyond. Commissioner Roger Goodell even said in an interview with NFL Network that the league is considering holding the third day of the draft in a different city.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they started doing a round a day and just make it a full week," said an AFC team representative here to submit his club's selection cards.

That might be an exaggeration, but the point is clear: A monster has been created, and it isn't going away.

Sure, there are those who hate to see change. Despite the dramatic improvement in TV ratings and traffic on and other web sites providing draft coverage, not all fans are thrilled that the selection process didn't remain confined to the weekend. Certainly, fans on the West Coast had plenty of reason to be frustrated because, for them, each of the first two days (consisting of the first three rounds) began in the late afternoon. In general, many fans prefer watching the draft the way they normally watch football or any sport -- at home, relaxing.

It should be noted, though, that there was a time long ago when the draft began on Monday morning.

From a football standpoint, there really shouldn't be a whole lot of reason to complain about the new format. Decision-makers did seemingly make good use of the extra time they had to decide.

As expected, there was a significant spike in trades. The most active dealers included the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, and Oakland Raiders. The Patriots, in particular, loaded up with premium choices for 2011.

Teams that traditionally draft well -- such as the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens -- seemed to do their usual impressive work, which they would do whether the draft lasted a month or a day or an hour. Teams that haven't necessary had quite as much of a history of success -- the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals, for instance -- also appeared to have good drafts.

While the 75th draft may have provided teams more time to think, it will be mostly remembered for giving the NFL more time to promote.

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