Jeff Wilson: A draft could be a Super idea

JEFF WILSON
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2013

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You had to be on another planet if you weren't aware Steven Adams was part of the NBA Draft last week.

This is professional sport at its highest level - amateur players getting their first contracts and going into the Big Show. It's their first step into a world of riches and opportunity.

You may not remember this but in the early years of Super Rugby we used to have our own draft process. With a set number of protected players, there were opportunities for young and old right across New Zealand.

Coaches had the chance to fill spots, to debate, to almost trade players to achieve what Super Rugby was first all about - getting our best 125 footballers playing at a level above our NPC.

This environment saw players moving from one end of the country to the other, for the most part without choice.

But the landscape has changed. Squads are now more and more protected and each franchise has greater control over its players. The flexibility within the system is now minimal.

Now we've reached this full franchise contracting model, the race to get the signature on the dotted line for this country's young talent has become more and more crucial.

This year, more than most, we've questioned the loss of the middle tier of players in our game. I'd ask, is that money from those players now being diverted to "potential" talent rather than actual performance?

Are opportunities for young players being missed? With players committing to professional organisations at such young ages and the ability for larger squads to be protected, does that mean our best 125 are now still on show?

The landscape can change so much from year to year with young players making decisions so important at 18 or 19, and in some cases younger. There may be missed opportunities across the country.

There's something to be said about the special relationship and loyalty we have to our players. But now investors have been introduced, does this change the bottom-line outlook?

Let's be clear: the NZRU hasn't given up the controlling stake in our franchises. But the new partial owners will be looking for a return on their investment.

So, is the market too closed? Are we committing to players too young, and does that limit their opportunities?

Is it in the best interests of a 16 or 17-year-old to commit to financial reward before personal development? Is our player base too small to have a draft system? Are the threats from other sports too great for us to allow our sporting talent to remain unprotected?

As we continue to develop our talent, there is an opportunity for all five franchises to get better at how they improve their rosters.

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The Highlanders will finish last in the NZ conference, but with so much young talent already protected, what changes can they make to reinvigorate their franchise?

I'd like to see us have patience. We've stopped waiting to assess our young talent, and we rush in because everyone else can.

The ITM Cup is an important part of the rugby landscape and a great development tool. Let's use it to assess this talent. Then come November the best players will have earned their contracts, and will have opportunities on the back of performance rather than potential.

The college and draft system in American sport is equal opportunity. The teams who need the talent the most get first crack at the best players, and talented youngsters get to showcase their abilities at an appropriate level.

The US college system finds the balance between potential and performance. Adams has been selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder on both.

Wouldn't it be nice at the end of an ITM Cup to give that same opportunity to the franchises and our best young players?

- Sunday Star Times

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