Details on the disaster draft plans from MLB, the NFL, NBA and NHL.
Once upon a time (almost 25 years ago), George Costanza had a chance to ask Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets one question. And he went with…
As comically inappropriate as it was, George isn’t the only one who’s thought about that morbid scenario.
All four sports leagues have specific guidelines about what they would do if a serious tragedy struck an entire team (or a significant part of one). And while they really don’t like to talk about those plans (and, thankfully, they’ve never had to implement them), over the years the details have leaked into various articles and books.
I compiled the “disaster draft” contingency plans for all four leagues, and judged just how generous they are to the team that just suffered the loss.
Threshold for disaster: Two definitions: A “near disaster” is fewer than 15 players (but, I assume, more than, like, two) becoming disabled or killed; a “disaster” is 15 or more.
Options: For a “near disaster,” the affected team just gets preferred waiver rights for the rest of the season. Ouch. But if they lose a quarterback, they can draft two from other teams — with each team making one available. And after the season, those two quarterbacks go back to their original teams.
For a “disaster,” either those same “near disaster” rules will apply, or the team’s season will be canceled. In the case of a cancelation, the team will automatically get the top pick in the next NFL draft and get to draft players from other teams after the season (see rules below).
Draft rules: Every team can protect 32 players. I couldn’t find any policy on whether a team can lose more than one.
Rank: Least generous. Basically you’re rooting for your season to be canceled because you get the top pick and better scraps than if your season continues. (Side note from a Browns fan: If they could rebuild their roster right now using the “season canceled/top pick and poaching other teams’ players” option, they would be significantly better off.)
Threshold for disaster: “Death, dismemberment, or permanent disability” of at least five players during the season or playoffs, or six during the offseason.
Options: Cancel the team’s season or hold a draft from the other teams.
Draft rules: Every other team makes five players from their major league roster available: 1 pitcher, 1 catcher, 1 outfielder, 1 infielder and 1 other. Each team can lose a maximum of one player.
Rank: Second-least generous. An affected team will wind up with a lot of other teams’ number five starters, utility infielders, 0.1 WAR outfielders and Uptons. And almost certainly Torii Hunter.
Threshold for disaster: Five or more players “are killed or disabled.”
Options: Draft from other teams; no cancelations.
Draft rules: The other teams can offer up players for sale, which the drafting team can buy using money from a special insurance fund. Once they have a goalie and 14 other players, teams that weren’t affected can protect one goalie and 10 other players while the drafting team fills out its roster. Rookies and players under 20 are exempt.
Rank: Second-most generous. There’s a lot of ambiguity about which players could be poached in the initial restocking phase, which opens the door up to faster rebuilding than in MLB or the NFL.
Threshold for disaster: Five or more players “die or are dismembered.”
Options: Draft from other teams. Cancelation is apparently not on the table.
Draft rules: Every team can only protect five players. No team can lose more than one player.
Rank: Most generous. And also guaranteed to hurt a lot of players’ feelings — narrowing down each roster to the five players to protect is a tough exercise. But maybe that’s good; in trying to heal from an epic tragedy, it would be a nice, comedic break to see Dion Waiters and Joakim Noah react to being unprotected. Oh, and all those Golden State Warriors fans apoplectically wondering how you choose when you’ve got a roster of 15 sure-to-be Hall of Famers. (“They didn’t protect Bogut!? But he’s the best center since Kareem! And Shaun Livingston would’ve been a starter on any other team in NBA history, especially those crappy ’90s Bulls teams!”)