I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how the National Football League (NFL) had to adapt their selection procedures to deal with the pandemic. To recap, the NFL selects new players primarily through a draft of eligible college football players. Leading up to the draft teams review the players’ performance in previous games, have them go through physical examinations, athletic drills, personality and cognitive tests, structured interviews, and background investigations. However, with COVID-19, the NFL ruled out many of these things for health reasons.
It is much too early to tell if the slimming of the selection tools impacted the effectiveness of any team’s draft. However, there are two observations that can be made:
- The order of the most talented players chosen was pretty much what was expected by experts back in January. 26 of the first 32 players drafted were predicted (by one expert), with 7 of the first 8 going to the predicted team as well. This is pretty typical.
- The lack of some the selection tools appeared to hurt those who attended smaller and/or not as well-known schools. Typically, about 18 players from such schools are taken in the draft. This year, only 6 were. With a lack of information, teams may not have known, or wanted to take a risk, on such players.
For the latter, this is not a case of re-arranging crumbs. Some of the best players in the NFL have come from these schools, so the teams lose a competitive advantage when they don’t properly identify relatively unknown talent.
What we saw is easily explained: Past performance is the best (but not perfect) predictor of future performance. The teams could evaluate how well players from the bigger schools performed against similar talent in college. The NFL did not have, and did not develop, tools to uncover the best players who did not have the opportunity to play against other very talented players. So, they relied on what they knew best. But, this resulted in opportunity costs for them and created a slew of players with chips on their shoulders.
Since this selection event takes place once a year, it is likely that the NFL draft will (largely) return to normal next year. But, what if it doesn’t? Or, in the future there is another interruption? The teams that find alternative (and equally valid) methods of evaluating talent will benefit. Your company should be thinking in the same vein during COVID-19 and beyond.