The Point After: Despite backlash, the NFL Draft must go on

Amid the fear, caution and social distancing surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, sports fans should be delighted to hear that the world’s most exciting corporate board meeting has been renewed for yet another season.

Yes, the NFL Draft will continue as planned at the end of April and fans will finally have their long-standing need for live entertainment satiated by the most dramatic turn-based strategy game in the world of sports.

The draft — undoubtedly one of the most popular sports events on the annual calendar — has stood as a bastion for the bored sports fan in the spring for decades. Often a means of escape for the lonely football fan or the recovering March Madness addict, the draft offers a three-day journey to a world where it is not the players or coaches but rather front offices and general managers who are scrutinized, second-guessed and exposed for strategical flaws, minor or major. In this facet, the ultimate sports offseason event is simply unsurpassed by its contemporaries in the NBA, NHL and MLB.

Obviously, the context of this year’s extravaganza is distinctly depressing, yet also unique. In many ways, the NFL Draft is the perfect event for the coronavirus-trapped world in which we now live. Aside from iconic “powerhouse” quarantine sports such as marble racing and the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, the NFL Draft is the perfect enterprise to weather a storm that has otherwise ravaged the rest of the traditional collegiate and professional athletics landscape.

Easily suited to the online-only environment of the quarantined United States while cutting down on arguably cheesy staples such as the backstage draft room, the draft is primed to be as popular as it has ever been despite being conducted from the safety and seclusion of the NFL’s collective couch.

All said, there are plenty of those both within and separate from the NFL that feel that the draft’s continuation is a poor decision on behalf of the league. A few weeks prior, an unnamed NFL executive took umbrage with the concept of the draft taking place as scheduled. Among many issues, they cited the concept that in-person visits, private workouts and pro days all contribute to a team’s preparedness and to do away with such activities puts all teams at risk and a hearty disadvantage compared to years past. This, ultimately, is where the 2020 NFL Draft finds its most compelling showdown.

Who is this year’s draft truly meant to benefit: the teams or the fans?

In a world of isolation, the sports fan has shown to be surprisingly creative and divinely inspired to concoct new ways of self-entertainment. From the aforementioned marble racing — the Marbula One season just concluded with an absolute stunner of a run — to betting on eSports simulations in Madden and NBA 2K, the sports fan has begun to resemble a hermit. While creative, these escapes are clear proof that the average sports fan is going through unprecedented levels of withdrawal. As such, the draft has been tabbed by society to be an event that simply must go on despite the objection of some of its own participants.

Simply put, the League’s premier offseason showcase has been commandeered as a public good in the face of the pandemic. This event is no longer simply about where Tua Tagovailoa will land and how many wideouts are selected in the first round but rather about healing the soul of a wounded nation and providing folks an escape from the mundane and the maddening.

As such, we will watch on proudly at the end of April. As we hold hope for the best for USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Austin Jackson — as well as for the fortune of our favorite professional teams — we will collectively enjoy the distraction that the draft provides; however momentary or fleeting, we sports fans will take the opportunity and run with it.

The draft must — and thankfully will — go on, and its healing touch will help a country in quarantine.

Jimmy Goodman is a senior writing about USC sports. His column, “The Point After,” typically runs every other Thursday.