History of the Draft

MLB

The MLB Draft began in 1965. Prior to this year, MLB teams could just offer a contract to any amateur player of their choice. Consequently, the best players often went to the richer teams who were able to out-bid the poorer teams. With the institution of the Draft however, need now determines which teams land the best players. The teams pick players in the opposite order of last season’s standings, with selections interchanging between the American and National Leagues. The MLB Draft has 40 rounds, making it the largest Draft among all other major professional sports leagues in North America.

In the early years, drafts took place three times a year in January, June, and August, and most players selected were fresh out of high school. Today, only the June draft remains, and the majority of drafted players have played college ball. Only residents of the U.S., Canada, and U.S. territories are eligible for the draft. International players are signed on an individual basis by teams. Players can enter the draft upon completion of high school, but once they enroll in a four-year college, they are not eligible again until they turn 21.

 

NBA

At the end of June each year, the 30 teams of the NBA take turns drafting new players into the league. Most players are U.S. college basketball players who have either graduated or are underclassmen who decided to declare early. In total, 60 players are chosen over two rounds. Each team therefore has two picks every year, but may end up with more or less in a given year because picks can be traded in deals.

In all NBA Drafts prior to 1985, the selection order went in reverse order of the teams’ record from the previous season so that the team with the worst record chose first, and the best team last. From 1947 to 1965, the Draft also featured territorial picks in which a team could select a player in its local area in exchange for its first-round Draft pick. In 1966, the NBA eliminated the territorial picks and introduced a coin flip between the two teams that finished last in each division. The winner of the coin flip received the first overall pick, and the loser got the second pick.

In 1985, a lottery system was put in place for the Draft. The lottery has been altered throughout the years and now the league has adopted a weighted system. The current weighted system uses 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14. The balls are deposited in a drum and four are chosen at random. Since the order of the balls doesn’t matter, the number of possible combinations equals 1,001. One of these combinations is discarded, and the remaining 1,000 are assigned to each of the 14 non-playoff teams before the lottery begins. Like the previous lottery system, the weighted system only determines the order of the first three picks. The lottery is usually held in late May. The drawing of the balls takes place behind closed doors.

 

NFL

The first NFL Draft occurred in 1936, and today, the Draft consists of seven rounds with each team having one pick per round unless it decides to trade it away. The selection order is the same for each round with the non-playoff teams occupying the first 20 picks in reverse order of last season’s records. The playoff teams are assigned the remaining 12 picks in the order in which they got knocked out of the playoffs. In the case of a tie, the team with the worst record gets the first pick.

Teams are given 10 minutes in Round 1, seven minutes in Round 2, and five minutes in the last five rounds to make a selection before the team after them gets to choose. A team that fails to choose a player before time expires still can do so at a later time, but it runs the risk that the next team(s) may steal the player it wants. The majority of drafted players are juniors or seniors in college as players are not eligible to enter the Draft until three years have passed since they graduated from high school.

The Draft may also consist of up to 32 compensatory picks awarded at the end of Rounds 3 through 7 to teams who lost more players to free agency than they gained. The NFL does also hold a Supplemental Draft in late summer to give an extra opportunity for college players to join the NFL.

 

NHL

The Draft selection process of amateur ice hockey players is called the NHL Entry Draft. The Draft takes place every year around two to three months after the end of each season with the first having occurred in 1963. Every NHL team participates in the Draft that currently lasts seven rounds with a total of 215 players selected. The amateur players come from junior, collegiate or Europeans leagues. North American players must be 18 to 20 years of age while Europeans can be any age as long as it is their first time joining the league. Players that don’t meet these requirements enter as unrestricted free agents.

Each team has one pick per round with the order based on several factors: the NHL Draft Lottery, regular season rankings, and playoff results. The first 14 picks are awarded to the non-playoff teams in reverse order of the previous season’s standings. However, one team may better its place in the order by up to four places if it wins the single selection NHL Draft lottery. Due to this rule, any of the five worst teams can land the first overall pick and the worst team is at least guaranteed the second pick as no team can drop more than one place. The lottery is weighted, meaning the worst team has the greatest chance at winning and the best team has the lowest chance. After the order for the non-playoff teams has been finalized, the playoff teams occupy places 15 through 30 in the order in which they were eliminated in the playoffs with season records being the deciding factor for teams knocked out in the same playoff round.