LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- If you want to know how the American media business works today, the NFL Draft provides a nice, neat picture.
First, you have an event. The Draft is an actual thing. It will happen tonight. Teams will select players, they'll smile for the cameras, fans will be happy, analysts will analyze, fans will react. All of that is good. It's normal.
What goes on in the months preceding the draft, however, is garbage. Oh, it's nicely packaged garbage. It's marketed to the hilt (as garbage often is). But it is, nonetheless, refuse, rubbish, dreck, detritus.
There was a time that the American public wanted news coverage from its media outlets. It wanted analysis of what had happened. It wanted perspective. It wanted thoughtful people to put events into context.
That time has passed. What there is a demand for now is prediction. Part of the problem is the evolution of the news cycle. It's 24 hours. And if you have to fill 24 hours of news or sports, one way to fill it is by putting together groups of experts who will speculate.
Marketing experts smarter than I am have determined, this is something people want. They will watch it. And, now get this, they want it and will watch it whether the predictions are right or not.
We see this in local television. Rick Bozich and I spoke at the quarterback club of Louisville on Wednesday. One of the questions from the audience was, "How come we get weather four different times during the newscast but only a small segment of sports at the end?"
After we kind of scratched our head and answered that our "small segment" of sports is more than twice as long as most competitors most nights, Bozich told them, "Weather drives ratings. Look at the size of weather staffs in this town."
The predictive nature, and the public's demand for it, is part of that.
The only problem is that predicting the weather is a science. Predicting the NFL Draft is not.
Mel Kiper is the biggest-name draft analyst in the nation. But the web site Deadspin did a nice job breaking down his own mock drafts. Kiper did a mock draft in March of last year. Of the 32 picks in the first round, he got only three correct, and pegged only 12 of the 32 in the first round within three spots of where they were actually taken.
In other words, go buy a dartboard. Other mock drafts, the website says, were less accurate.
Now, Kiper got more accurate as the draft got closer, and there was more intelligence from the teams. But that's not the projection that ESPN spent months discussing. No, the narrative for everyone's news coverage is what these guys were saying from the preceding fall, which, the numbers show, might or might not have had any foundation in reality.
Hence, the storyline -- Teddy Bridgewater was a potential No. 1 pick, to Teddy sliding, to his pro day struggles, to Teddy being out of the first round. Even today, it's worth noting, while the storyline has moved to Bridgewater NOT being selected in the first round, Las Vegas still says there's a 68 percent chance he WILL be taken in the first round.
What happens is this: There's such an appetite to know what is going to happen next that people are lapping up anything anyone will give them whether it has any real worth or not. Add in the nearly universal use of unnamed scouts and "sources" and you have a body of work fit only for a landfill. Freakonomics attacked the notion of predictions and the news a couple of years ago, and Phil Tetlock, a professor at Penn's Wharton School of Business, told them something that I wrote down and still have on my desk today:
"I think there is an enormous demand for accurate predictions in many spheres of life in which we don’t have the requisite expertise to deliver, "Tetlock said. "And when you have that kind of gap between demand and real supply you get the infusion of fake supply."
I hope you caught the words "fake supply." Because that's exactly what you get in the months leading up to the NBA Draft and NFL Draft, and other such events.
People want prediction, so we give it to them, and then the prediction becomes the story, instead of the story becoming the story. Hit us up on Twitter, I just heard on ESPN. "Tell us where YOU think Johnny Manziel is going to go."
I'm not singling out the NFL. You can plug many sports discussions into this. Recruiting. Bracketology (in January and February). And it doesn't just happen in sports. It happens in politics. Pundits on the cable news networks are some of its chief practicioners. Listen for the qualifying words -- something "could" happen, "some expect" something to happen, or "if" a thing happens -- no matter the qualifier, the discussion proceeds on the basis of whatever action might happen, as if it already had, and needed to be analyzed.
There are things we know about the draft. The guesses that we hear are not uneducated. But neither are they, the results would tell us, very accurate. We don't know if Bridgewater ever really was slated for the top five in the draft. We don't know where he'll wind up tonight.
I do know one thing. When someone says to me -- as several people did yesterday -- "Teddy Bridgewater shouldn't have gone to New York to the draft, he's going to be embarrassed on national TV," my response is pretty strong.
Why should he be embarrassed? Whatever happens, he's going to be an NFL quarterback in the morning. Maybe he'll be a first-rounder. Or maybe he'll be a second-rounder. You know who else was a second-rounder? Colin Kaepernick. Drew Brees. Andy Dalton. All starting in the NFL right now.
For Bridgewater, this should be a proud night. He made a dream come true. He bought his mother the Escalade he always promised her.
It'll be reported one way or another. But all this stuff we've been listening to for months, the "mock drafts" and guesses and breakdowns of who is taking whom? More often than not, it's garbage.
For that matter, so is most news that tries to tell you what happens before it really does.