The biggest complaint we heard from readers during our NFL draft live blog on Thursday night was that ESPN and the NFL Network were tipping picks before they were being read by Roger Goodell. It's something we've lamented in the past and was particularly egregious this year, most notably by Chris Berman (who himself was the subject of many complaints.)
SI.com's media analyst, Richard Deitsch, agrees with this and asked two network producers about why they continue to tip picks by showing players on the phone and having reporters announce their findings early. Both producers candidly acknowledged the problem but stopped short of vowing to do anything about it:
Jay Rothman, ESPN lead producer on NFL draft:
You are there to document this live news event, as it is unfolding live before your eyes. But I question it too. Is it the right thing we are doing? From an execution standpoint, if you look at the amount of time that each team actually took once they were on the clock, I promise you the first 10 picks were each less than five minutes.
One school of thought is it's reality TV, you are in the moment, and it's the nature of the immediacy, so yes, you are getting tipped and the announcement of the pick is just a formality and a kiss-off. That's one scenario, and that allows you to get ahead of the team on the clock. The other scenario would be no cameras allowed in the green room and players are not allowed to have a phone. When the pick is made, we all get the pick and then you are analyzing the player. We then use that 10-minute clock for analysis of the player.
Eric Weinberger, NFL Network executive producer:
It's a news story we are following. We want to show the moment these kids' lives are changed and that moment is when the team calls them to let them know where they have been selected. Sometimes it takes six to seven minutes for that kid to even get off the phone and greet the commissioner. Maybe we have to change that part of the format, if we want the first time they hear about it, or if they react and cry like Mark Ingram. But that is the system that is in place. The system is the team calls the players first, and at that point, it's there and it is a news story like any other news story. It's the moment you win the award. But we talk about it a lot. I get the same emails you get and see all the tweets. It does seem at times the commissioner's announcement is secondary."
Though I have plenty of problems with draft coverage (cough, BERMAN, cough), both ESPN and NFLN should be commended for pulling off the difficult task of making a thoroughly unexciting event exciting. There's no good reason the draft should be as entertaining as it is and it's a credit to ESPN, which originated coverage in the 1980s, that the event can hold our attention for hours at a time.
The tipping picks has to go, though. Both men act like their hands are tied on the issue, but they're the ones who make the decision to continue doing it. It's like when Goodell apologizes for the lockout and thinks we don't realize that he's the one leading the charge. Reading between the lines, Rothman and Weinberger realize that people have a problem with it but believe their coverage is augmented by including the shots of the phone calls.
They have a point. Rothman presents the bleak scenario of analysts talking about picks for 10 minutes rather than going to green room shots. Nice scare tactic. He may as well have said "if we don't have cameras in the green room, I'm just going to let Berman talk for 10 straight minutes."
Why does the camera have to be banned from the green room, though? This isn't an all or nothing thing. The problem isn't the presence of the camera, it's that directors cut to it the instant Julio Jones' phone rings. There can be a healthy balance here.
How? Ban the phones in the green room. Why does a team need to call a player two minutes before the pick is announced? If we're all in agreement that the draft serves as a marketing tool and revenue generator for the NFL, then there's no reason to put perfunctory conversation ahead of suspense for the viewer. Whether Andy Reid talks to his new offensive lineman at 8:04 p.m. or 8:09 p.m. isn't going to make a difference.
Don't count on it, though. The owners and GMs want to make a good impression early and the agents like the camera time and attention for their players. And if there's one thing we've learned from the past two months of the lockout it's that when owners, coaches, players and fans are in the equation, one side gets shut out every time.