The NFL Scouting Combine is the most boring important event in sports, and even its importance is marginal. There’s always a handful of low-end prospects who vault into the first few rounds with a surprising performance, but generally, a 40-yard dash time that drops by a few milliseconds won’t cause a tumble out of the first round.
The events at the Combine become even less important given their redundancy with the month of college Pro Days and private workouts that follow, where players are asked to run in a straight line and shuffle around a few cones again. One of the most important parts of the Combine has little connection to the players running around in Indianapolis, or even the draft. It’s an NFL convention, giving coaches, general managers, and free agents a chance to
viciously tamper meet and discuss deals prior to free agency. The individual medical evaluations are also vitally important.
Yet we’ll all spend a weekend watching draft hopefuls make funny faces, because it’s football, even though it really isn’t football. Passing on an opportunity to capitalize on your insatiable desire to consume football is a sacrilegious thought in the NFL’s head offices, which is why this year otherwise intelligent people bought tickets to attend Super Bowl Media Day, and wildly unintelligent people were eager to watch last year’s Super Bowl from a stairwell.
The combine is following suit and breaking new ground for dizzying boredom by selling tickets to sit in the stands and watch everyone’s favorite underwear Olympics. Merely offering tickets wasn’t enough either, because the NFL made just a limited number available (250) in the first offering, and then asked fans to write an essay explaining why they should be included in that elite group.
They received 6,000 essays. I’ll pause for a moment as you pick the keyboard keys out of your forehead.
Ready? Carrying on then…
That ridiculous ratio of combine attendees to people who actually wanted to attend led to an idea, the same idea that morphed the Super Bowl into the week-long festival it’s now become. The NFL might create a Combine party, and they’ll start with the 40-yard dash, the Combine’s glamor event.
Judy Battista of the New York Times noted several ideas that the league is heavily considering to spice up the NFL’s annual job fair, most notably turning the 40-yard dash into a 40-yard race. Players would run side-by-side, which will be more entertaining for fans, and it’ll give an extra shot of motivation to athletes who are instinctively competitive.
The same side-by-side format could be used during the bench press, changes that will both be first introduced at the smaller regional combines before the experiment possibly progresses. It sounds like this is still in the idea stage right now, and sadly Battista didn’t mention anything about the league adopting the ideas we had last year that included Ines Sainz, a pommel horse, speed walking, and heart monitors.
While those possible changes may indeed be entertaining and they’ll continue to move the NFL towards the WWE in terms of its business approach (if you’re entertained, we are making money, and we are happy), the league’s old guard could get irritated.
That was the message former GM turned talking head Bill Polian had for Battista:
“This has grown to a football trade show and I understand that. What we have to do is be careful not to lose the player personnel evaluation purpose of this.”
They’ll understand eventually, because even though the NFL dominates the North American sports landscape, there are still six-and-a-half months when competitive pigskin is hibernating. The draft and free agency keep football fans engaged and talking until May, but gimmicks lead to spikes.
This is definitely a gimmick, but I’ll make my confession now: I’ll be watching.