In 1982 in Tampa, the NFL held its first pooled scouting event for prospective draftees with 163 players and little fanfare. In 1987 the locale moved to what has become its permanent home in Indianapolis. Three reporters were in attendance for an event of critical interest only to teams and the draftees. Today, the scouting combine has exploded into another massive televised and reported event reflecting the way in which the NFL dominates popular culture.
The testing spreads out over a week, with different positions reporting in a staggered way. Players are given a thorough physical with multiple physicians and a grueling Cybex Test. They are testing for drugs and performance-enhancing complexes. They do a series of one-on-one interviews with team personnel. Certain players are interviewed at a podium in press conference format. There are physical tests:
1) 40-yard dash
2) Vertical leap
3) Broad jump
4) 20-yard shuttle
5) 60-yard shuttle
6) Three-cone drill.
Players are weighed, measured (arm length, hand length) and tested for body fat. They take a Wonderlic intelligence test. Then they engage in position specific drills. Quarterbacks throw the ball in critically evaluated sessions. Every single owner, team executive, director of player personnel, coach, assistant coach with any input in team drafting decisions is in attendance. Players who test and perform well can vault their draft evaluations, conversely players can lower their draft ratings with sub-par performances.
What used to be a team-player experience is private no more. The testing sessions are televised on the NFL Network. Estimates are that more than 12 million fans will watch some part of the broadcasts. More than 1,100 press credentials were distributed last year. There is live streaming over the Internet. Twitter has instant updates on virtually every 40 time and workout session. Instant viral media creates impressions of winners and losers. One thousand fans are selected at random to watch.
What is the role of player agents at the combine? They are not allowed inside the dome to watch their players work out. They are not even allowed in the hotel that players stay in. I have attended three times since 1982, because of the lack of a real role, but will be going this year to support some promising draftees. The post-presidential debate campaign handlers in the spin room have nothing on agents reinterpreting to writers what actually happened in testing. But I'll try to maintain some dignity.
A testing process that began with a desire for teams to save money by sharing expenses in pooled scouting has morphed into a massively followed event. It remains an unsettled question as to whether with all this sophistication, teams make measurably better drafting decisions than they did when the draft was in January right after the season.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.