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A dispersal draft is a process in professional sports for assigning players to a new team when their current team ceases to exist or is merged with another team. Since most sports drafts are held in North America, this is where most dispersal drafts are conducted as well.
Since no major professional sports team has folded or merged since 1978, dispersal drafts are more commonly seen in emerging sports (such as soccer or women's basketball in the United States) or alternative leagues where initial support for a team failed to remain consistent and the team was unable to survive financially.
Examples of dispersal drafts
- The National Football League held a dispersal draft on June 2, 1950, to allocate players from the four remaining teams in the All-America Football Conference who would not be joining the NFL.
- The NBA had two dispersal drafts in the 1950–51 season: In October 1950, a dispersal draft for the Chicago Stags franchise was conducted, and in January 1951, the Washington Capitols demise led to a second dispersal draft.
- The American Basketball Association in 1975 had two drafts within a month of each other in October and November 1975 as two teams folded during what turned out to be the final season of the ABA.
- On August 8, 1976, as part of the ABA-NBA merger agreement, a dispersal draft was conducted to assign teams for the players on the two ABA franchises which had folded.
- In June 1978, the NHL allowed the financially struggling Cleveland Barons and Minnesota North Stars to merge under the North Stars banner. The North Stars were allowed to keep some of the players from each team, and the remaining players went into the 1978 NHL Dispersal Draft.
- In 1991, the National Hockey League conducted a dispersal draft in order to split a new team, the San Jose Sharks, from the Minnesota North Stars as a compromise after the North Stars owners requested permission to move the financially struggling franchise to the San Francisco Bay Area, effectively undoing the 1978 merger.
- In 1996, the Canadian Football League conducted a dispersal draft which consisted of players from the rosters of the Birmingham Barracudas, Memphis Mad Dogs, San Antonio Texans and Shreveport Pirates in order to return the CFL to a nine-team format with all franchises based in Canadian cities. The CFL conducted another dispersal draft the following year, when the Ottawa Rough Riders ceased operations; those players under contract by the team were dispersed amongst the eight remaining teams.
- In 1996 and 1997, the Australian Football League held an expansion and dispersal draft as part of the 1996 National draft and the 1997 Pre-season draft as Port Adelaide would enter the AFL for the 1997 season, and the Brisbane Bears had taken over Fitzroy's playing operations after Fitzroy had folded at the end of Round 22. The Bears were allowed to recruit eight of the 19 Fitzroy players that nominated for the draft as part of the agreement to take the Lions nickname and Fitzroy's remaining AFL property, while three Fitzroy players were taken by Port Adelaide, and the remaining eight players were drafted by other teams.
- In 2002, Major League Soccer held a dispersal draft after shutting down the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion teams.
- The WNBA has had five such drafts: For the 2003 season, after Miami and Portland folded; 2004 season, after Cleveland folded; the 2007 season, after Charlotte folded; the 2008 season, after Houston folded; and the 2010 season, after Sacramento folded. In each draft, all remaining WNBA teams were allowed a draft pick in reverse order of their regular-season record for the preceding season.
- The Major Indoor Soccer League shut down the San Diego Sockers and Monterrey Fury in December 2004 as a result of various issues, including unpaid debts and insolvency. Players in those teams were then distributed to the remaining teams in a dispersal draft, and the order of player selection was in reverse order of the winning percentage of the remaining teams (excluding games against San Diego and Monterrey and the playoffs) from the 2003-04 seasons and the 2004-2005 season up to that point.
- On April 9, 2006, the Ottawa Renegades had their team operations suspended by the Canadian Football League. On April 12, 2006, the former players still under contract and those that the Renegades had the rights to, were distributed amongst the remaining eight teams. Quarterback Kerry Joseph was selected #1 overall by the Saskatchewan Roughriders after they traded with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the rights to the #1 pick.
- On January 5, 2007, the Southern Professional Hockey League conducted a one-round seven team dispersal draft after the SPHL terminated the Florida Seals franchise midway through the season; the seven players who were drafted went to their new teams, while the remaining players became free agents.
- The United Football League conducted a dispersal draft prior to the 2011 season to accommodate the shutdown of the Hartford Colonials. Five rounds were held among the UFL's four remaining teams, the twenty players who were drafted went to their new teams, and the remaining players became free agents.
- On September 6, 2013, the Arena Football League held a dispersal draft to distribute the players of the dormant Chicago Rush and Utah Blaze franchises. They referred to the dispersal draft as the "Offseason Assignment Process".
- On November 19, 2014, Major League Soccer held the 2014 MLS Dispersal Draft to distribute the players of Chivas USA.
- In 2018, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League conducted a dispersal draft that sent ten players from across the league to the Humboldt Broncos, who lost sixteen players and staff members in a bus crash on April 6, 2018. Thirteen more players were injured.