The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    First prime-time NFL draft tonight

    FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (MCT) – How big is this change? It affects the way fans watch, executives think and scouts speak.

    “You know, these guys are not just first- and second-day players anymore,” Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland said of the lingo he uses with his staff. “They’re first-, second- and third-day players now.”

    That’s one of the unintended consequences of the league’s decision to alter the schedule of one of its showcase events, the NFL Draft. Last April, the first and second rounds were held on Saturday starting at 4 p.m., with the remaining five rounds conducted from 10 a.m. onward Sunday.

    This week?

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    “I think the format will be interesting,” Ireland said.

    Tonight, the first round is from 7:30 p.m. EDT until roughly 11 p.m. Each team will get 10 minutes to choose, down from 15 minutes in previous years.

    Friday, the second and third rounds are from 6 p.m. until roughly 10:30 p.m. Each team will get seven minutes in the second round, down from 10 minutes in previous years. It then will get five minutes for each third-round pick.

    Saturday, the final four rounds are from 10 a.m. until roughly 5:30 p.m. Each team will get five minutes to make each of its remaining selections, through the seventh round.

    NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expects the move to expose the draft to a broader audience while offering more marketing (and draft party) opportunities for the 32 clubs. The NFL’s television partners – ESPN and the in-house NFL Network – certainly don’t mind the additional popular programming.

    “We think it’s going to be a terrific thing for our fans,” Goodell said. “Our clubs seem to be very excited about it.”

    That depends which member of which club you ask. Mike Shanahan, the new Washington Redskins coach, called it “great for the game, since people enjoy the draft.” Same for Lovie Smith, the Chicago Bears coach: “Anytime you can bring more awareness to the sport, it’s a good thing.”

    Others? Not as thrilled.

    “I would have liked to have been able to answer that before, so it doesn’t matter what I think, I guess,” Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said. “I just think that decision was made by people above me. Timewise, I don’t think it takes three days to do it, but we’re going to do it.”

    When most executives, coaches and analysts project what could be most different about this year’s draft, they focus more on the time when the teams are not on the clock – but rather, have the clock on their side. They point to that 18-hour supposedly “idle” period between the end of the first round Friday and the start of the second Saturday. Last April, there was no break between those two most important rounds.

    “I like the time aspect of it,” Ireland said.

    The cellular phone companies should, also, if anyone’s still on a per-minute plan.

    “You might see more trades to start the second round,” said ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, echoing the sentiments of many others.

    That’s because each team will have a chance to take a long look at what it did – and didn’t – do in the first round.

    “I’m just hoping we don’t overthink things,” Fox said. “You put time on people’s hands, all kinds of things can happen.”

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    First prime-time NFL draft tonight