A draft is a process used to allocate certain players to sports teams. In a draft, teams take turns selecting from a pool of eligible players. When a team selects a player, the team receives exclusive rights to sign that player to a contract, and no other team in the league may sign the player.
The best-known type of draft is the entry draft, which is used to allocate players who have recently become eligible to play in a league. Depending on the sport, the players may come from college, high school or junior teams or teams in other countries.
An entry draft prevents expensive bidding wars for young talent and ensures that no one team can sign contracts with all of the best young players and make the league uncompetitive. To encourage parity, teams that do poorly in the previous season usually get to choose first in the postseason draft, sometimes with a "lottery" factor to discourage teams from purposely losing.
Other types of drafts include the expansion draft, in which a new team selects players from other teams in the league; and the dispersal draft, in which a league's surviving teams select players from the roster of a newly defunct franchise.
Drafts are usually permitted under anti-trust or restraint of trade laws because they are included in collective bargaining agreements between leagues and labor unions representing players. These agreements generally stipulate that after a certain number of seasons, a player whose contract has expired becomes a free agent and can sign with any team. They also require minimum and sometimes maximum salaries for newly drafted players.
National Football League President Joseph Carr instituted a draft in 1935 as a way to restrain teams' payrolls and reduce the dominance of the league's perennial contenders. It was adopted by the precursor of the National Basketball Association in 1947; by the National Hockey League in 1963; and by Major League Baseball in 1965, although draft systems had been used in baseball since the 19th century.
Drafts are uncommon in association football (except in Major League Soccer), where most professional clubs obtain young players through transfers from smaller clubs or by developing youth players through their own academies. The youth system is operated directly by the teams themselves, who develop their players from childhood. Parity in association football is instead maintained through promotion and relegation, which automatically expels the weakest teams from a league in exchange for the strongest teams in the next lower league. The result is a drastically different endgame for poor teams: a North American sports team may see the opportunity to get better through the draft after a poor season, but a European football club will instead be relegated down to a league with less money and prestige, potentially exacerbating the problems.
In Australian rules football's premier competition, a draft was introduced in 1986 (when the competition was then known as the VFL). This was in response to the increasing transfer fees and player salaries at the time, which in combination with declining attendances, threatened to derail the league. It was also a result of the failure of country zoning, introduced in the late 1960s, which had led to a systematic inequality whereby the clubs with the best zones, like Carlton and Hawthorn, could dominate over clubs with poorer zones like Melbourne.
In the AFL Draft, clubs receive picks based on the position in which they finish on the ladder. Therefore, the teams that finish at the bottom of the AFL ladder will get the first draft picks. Also, any team that finishes in a low ladder position for consecutive seasons will receive priority picks.
The AFL's National Draft is held in November, with a pre-season draft and a rookie draft held in December.
The 1991 NSWRL season featured the introduction of rugby league football's first draft system. The draft allowed teams to recruit players on a roster system based on where the club finished the previous year. It ran in reverse order with the wooden spooners getting first choice and the premiers last. The draft lasted just the one season before being defeated in the courts by players and coaches opposed to its limitations.
When the Russian Superleague became the Kontinental Hockey League, the collective bargaining agreement between the KHL and its players introduced a draft, starting from the very first season of the league. It also allows teams to use a first-round draft pick to select protected players from a team's farm system.
Draft order in the NFL is determined in a reverse-record order (the previous season's worst team picking first, the Super Bowl winner picking last). There are 7 rounds of the draft, so each team can have 7 selections, plus whatever compensatory selections a team receives as a result of free agency (up to 32 compensatory selections are given each year). Teams are allowed to trade draft picks (but not compensatory selections) among each other in exchange for other draft picks or in exchange for players.
The NFL Draft has become one of the key events on the American football calendar, airing live on television each April. In recent years it's been held at New York's Radio City Music Hall, but in 2015 it will move to Los Angeles or Chicago.
The NBA Draft, held in a New York theater each summer, is only two rounds long. Instead of automatically granting the top pick to the worst team from the year before, the NBA holds a draft lottery to determine who chooses first. The top three picks are allocated by chance among the 14 teams that did not make the playoffs the year before. This discourages a team from losing on purpose to get a better draft pick, but also causes other controversy.
NBA teams choose players from the NCAA and from teams overseas. It was formerly common for players to be chosen directly from high school, but in 2006, the NBA required that players wait a year after high school before playing in the NBA. Almost all top U.S. players thus play at least one year in college.
The NHL operates a seven-round off-season draft. Like the NBA, the NHL uses a lottery system to determine which team gets the top pick. All 14 teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs take part in the weighted lottery with the winner moving up to select first overall. Any North American player aged 18–20, and any overseas player aged 18–21 is eligible to be selected. Players are generally chosen from junior hockey teams, high schools, the NCAA and overseas clubs.
An unusual side effect of the NHL's draft is that some high-profile prospects, especially those who play through their full eligibility in U.S. college hockey, are no longer eligible for the draft by the time they enter the NHL. These players are immediately allowed to sign with any team that will take them; because the NCAA season ends shortly after the NHL's trade deadline, such players usually are signed to bolster positions that teams were unable to address through trades.
The NHL rotates the draft's location among cities with teams in the league. Like baseball, players drafted in the entry draft usually have to wait a few years in development, either in junior hockey or the minor leagues, before cracking an NHL roster; usually, only one or two draft picks, generally those that are widely predicted to be blue-chip superstars, jump directly from the draft to the NHL (e.g. Sidney Crosby or Jaromir Jagr).
The three major junior leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League also hold drafts of teenage players in their territories.
Major League Baseball holds two drafts each year. In June, the First-Year Player Draft, MLB's entry draft, takes place. Only players from Canada, the U.S. or a U.S. territory may be drafted; players from elsewhere are free agents and can be signed by any team. Draftees are high-school graduates who have opted not to go to college; college baseball players at four-year institutions who have played three years or turned 21; or junior college baseball players. The draft lasts up to 50 rounds. The MLB Draft generally receives less attention than the drafts in other American sports, since drafted players usually spend several years in the minor leagues before they crack the Major League team's roster. Also, unlike the MLS, NFL, NBA and the NHL Drafts, the MLB Draft takes place during the season instead of in the offseason.
In December, MLB holds the much shorter Rule 5 draft. If an organization keeps a player in the minor leagues for a certain number of years, other teams can draft him in the Rule 5 draft. The drafting team must keep the player on its major-league roster; it cannot put the player in its own minor-league system.
Every spring, the WNBA Draft is held at league headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey. From 2005 to 2008, the Draft was held in the city that hosted the NCAA Women's Final Four. The draft is currently three rounds long with each of the 12 teams in the league (trades aside) getting three picks each. Draft order for teams that made the playoffs the previous year are based on team records. The team with the highest previous record will pick last. Since eight teams qualify for playoffs, the bottom eight picks are determined by this method. For the remaining top four picks, a selection process similar to the NBA Draft Lottery is conducted for the four teams that did not qualify for the playoffs.
The Canadian Football League holds its annual player draft before the start of the season, either in the last days of April or the start of May. It was formerly held as part of the annual league meetings in Hamilton, but is now typically held by conference call with the first two rounds being broadcast live on TSN. Since 2013 CFL Draft, the draft has consisted of seven rounds, with teams drafting in inverse order of their records in the previous season. As with the NFL Draft, trading of picks is very common, meaning that a team will not necessarily have seven picks in a given draft.
The draft is restricted to players who were raised in Canada since childhood (see the relevant section of the main CFL article). Eligible players can be drafted both from CIS football programs in Canada and U.S. college football programs (with the latter category containing one Canadian school, Simon Fraser).
International players, which can compose up to half of a CFL team's roster, are not subject to a draft and enter the league as free agents. This includes almost all of the league's quarterbacks.
Major professional sports leagues (including the KHL, MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL) have special contingency plans for rebuilding a team should an accident or other disaster kill or disable many players.
A draft bust occurs when a highly touted or highly selected draftee does not meet expectations. This can be for a variety of reasons, but the most often noted are injury or inability to perform at a professional level. A player is also regarded as a larger bust if more successful players are drafted after him or her. An example of a draft bust occurred with the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 NFL Draft. The Chargers selected promising quarterback Ryan Leaf with the second pick. However, Leaf only managed to play two years with the Chargers and started only 18 games (and winning only 4 games) for them before being released. Another example is LaRue Martin, drafted 1st overall in the 1972 NBA Draft ahead of Bob McAdoo and Julius Erving. McAdoo and Erving went on to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and are both usually mentioned as all-time greats, whereas Martin only played 4 NBA seasons for a career average of just over 5 points per game before retiring as arguably the biggest NBA draft bust ever. Other NBA draft busts include Sam Bowie (1984, who had a modestly productive though injury-prone career, but is particularly infamous for having been drafted one spot ahead of Michael Jordan), Michael Olowokandi (1998), Kwame Brown (2001), Darko Miličić (2003), Adam Morrison (2006) and Greg Oden (2007). Notable MLB draft busts include Steve Chilcott (1966), Brien Taylor (1991), and Matt Bush (2004), three 1st overall draft picks who never reached the majors. A player like outfielder Josh Hamilton (1999) can also be considered a draft bust before unexpectedly turning their career around.
Conversely, a lowly-drafted player going on to have a stellar career is a draft steal. Joe Montana, listed by Sports Illustrated as the third-best player in history was drafted 82nd overall in 1979, the fourth quarterback to be chosen. Mike Piazza, drafted dead last (and only as a favor from Tommy Lasorda), became one of the best catchers of the 1990s and is a probable future Hall of Famer. Tom Brady, who has won three Super Bowls and appeared in two others, was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, behind six quarterbacks, none of whom matched Brady's success (this is the subject of a 2011 ESPN documentary, The Brady 6). In the NBA, Manu Ginóbili, a key contributor to five San Antonio Spurs championships in the 2000s & 2014 and centerpiece of Argentina's Olympic gold medal team in 2004, was the next-to-last pick in the 1999 draft. In the NHL, Luc Robitaille, drafted 171st in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, would eventually retire as the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history.
Mr. Irrelevant is a title given to the last player selected in each year's NFL Draft. The phrase pokes fun at the typically poor chances such a player has of ultimately making an impact in the league, although several went on to productive NFL careers.
Some unusual draft picks in professional sports history have included Taro Tsujimoto, a fictional Japanese ice hockey forward who was drafted in the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft by the Buffalo Sabres (a move made in protest of the league's decision to hold the draft by phone), and Derrell Robertson, a man who was mistakenly drafted by the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1995 CFL Dispersal Draft despite being dead.
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