Nobody denies football is the most popular sport in America, but the theory goes that most fans don't have the time or interest to watch college prospects work out. Nevertheless the National Football League is about to try it out.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is considering some drastic changes to the annual scouting combine. The NFL could have college players racing against one another in the traditional 40-yard dash and going head-to-head as they bench press 225 pounds over and over in the strength test, the New York Times reports.
Sounds like the makings of a reality TV program for ESPN, Fox or the league-owned NFL Network. To the contrary, say the pigskin suits.
"We would not want to do something that was just good for television, or just good for the fans, if it were at the expense of either the football evaluation or the players’ preparation," Eric Grubman, the executive VP of NFL business operations told the New York Times. "It's a balancing act. The combine works."
Each player is asked to take part in 13 tests, but many of the high profile players end up skipping a few on advice from agents. In addition to the bench press and 40-yard dash, prospects also participate in a 20-yard shuttle, broad jump, three-cone drill, 60-yard shuttle, physical measurements, Cybex test, sit-down job interviews with teams, plus the infamous Wonderlic Test and more.
Admittedly the major changes won't come for a while, but this season, a select group of 250 fans have been selected to attend the event at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The NFL requested fans write essays explaining why they should be picked to be present. Close to 6,000 knowledgeable pigskin watchers answered. Obviously many of the responses were similar, but the Times reports one fan said he should be invited because "every year we have a combine party."
The Scouting Combine has been around since 1982. In the early days, the main goal was to test top prospects' health.
They don't always get it right.
Super Bowl champion DE Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants wasn't invited to the combine. Neither was Patriots star Wes Welker, who finished last season ranked among the top five in receptions and receiving yards.
While many executives have gone on the record saying they don't like change, the NFL believes the bigger it gets, the more attention it will get from non-sports media.
"When you make it interesting, people want to see it," Grubman said. "When you let them in, it gets bigger. When it gets bigger, other people want to be there. It goes from football media, who are attracted to it because it’s such a pure event, to popular media, to sponsors because fans are watching."
It also doesn't hurt that the NFL could turn this event into a money maker.
"Not a day goes by that Roger Goodell and everybody else doesn't take a step back and say, 'This is all about the game,'" Grubman told the Times. "We're not going to threaten any aspect of that. One of the reasons the Super Bowl was so incredible was how much teams try to get there. Making every part of it big means everybody cares more, including the athletes. Having athletes prepare more because the combine has become more competitive has to be good for the game and the players."
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