What’s next with NFL Scouting Combine? Probably prime-time exposure

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 04: Defensive back Jamel Dean of Auburn runs the 40-yard dash during day five of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Coming soon: the NFL Scouting Combine hits prime time.

The league wanted that to happen last week – the request came late and demanded too much in terms of making massive schedule changes on short notice – but had to settle for quarterbacks/wideouts drills to be shown by ABC and ESPN live during a two-hour time slot Saturday afternoon.

Next February?

Sit back and enjoy the show, including during prime time.

It’s not a given, but National Football Scouting president Jeff Foster, whose locally-based organization runs the Combine, essentially has been charged with making it happen.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen really soon,’’ Foster said Tuesday evening. “A lot of what we did this year was a beta test for what the league wants to do next year, which is to test the waters for prime time.’’

Foster and his staff work endless hours to ensure the NFL’s extensive pre-draft evaluation process goes off without a hitch for the 32 teams. This year, a record 337 players were in town and subjected to medical exams, psychological testing, interviews and those popular on-field drills.

League officials approached Foster in November about the possibility of moving the four-day on-field workouts into prime-time TV slots this year. That was met with a touch of incredulity from Foster.

“It was really a learning process for them to understand we cannot make that big of a change that quickly,’’ he said. “I said I wasn’t comfortable with the potential consequences. What we looked into doing was to go into prime time one night. We were going to try Saturday night.’’

The more Foster tried to massage the Combine schedule to appease the NFL, the more difficulties he encountered. The compromise: quarterback/wideout drills broadcast live Saturday from 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

“What we found out through our schedule testing as that while it’s not easy, it’s easier to change all of the nights than to change just one,’’ he said. “If we were to change one night, clubs would be required to make a decision between watching the workouts at night or doing their interviews at night.

“You almost have to change everybody, every night.’’

And that’s the objective moving forward when the Combine returns to Indy next February for a 34th consecutive year. A likely scenario is live prime-time broadcasts Thursday and Friday and late-afteroon/early-evening broadcasts Saturday and Sunday. One byproduct is requiring all players to remain in town one extra day.

“What we’re investigating now is can we flip our schedule?’’ Foster said. “In a very general sense, can we do what we typically do in the morning at night, and what we typically do at night in the morning?’’

The one phase of the Combine that’s virtually locked into the existing schedule is medical exams.

“That has to stay the same because of the logistics involved,’’ Foster said. “We can’t start the medicals later. That’s the one challenge.’’

There’s also another concern: how will players react to a drastic schedule change?

“We need to make sure the experience is positive because if not, there is the potential downstream for players not to participate in the workouts,’’ Foster said. “That wouldn’t be good for any of us. It wouldn’t be good for the players, wouldn’t be good for the agents, wouldn’t be good for the clubs and it certainly wouldn’t be good for television, which is trying to drive us to this.

“Like with anything, there is a tipping point and we need to figure out what that tipping point is. We need to make sure by trying to continue to evolve and bring more fans in and generate more revenue and do all of the things that are important from a league perspective we don’t lose sight of what’s most important, and that’s evaluating the players and having them participate.’’

On another front, it’s fair to wonder from which venue those prime-time workouts will air. The Combine is locked into Indy and Lucas Oil Stadium next year, but it’s the final year of the contract with the city. Visit Indy and the NFL are deep in discussions seeking a new deal.

Even so, the threat of a relocation is real. The most likely destination: Los Angeles. The new $5-6 billion home of the Rams and Chargers in Inglewood opens in 2020, and it’s likely the massive complex would welcome the popular Combine.

That decision ultimately will be made by the NFL. Survey general managers and coaches, though, and they see no reason it fix what isn’t broken. Personnel folks like the convenience offered by Lucas Oil Stadium and downtown Indy, most notably IU Health.

Colts GM Chris Ballard insisted “it would be foolish for us to move it from Indy. The work that Jeff Foster does to get this organized and what the city is able to provide . . . just getting the medical done, just from a logistical standpoint is critical for us to be able to do our jobs.

“I get the whole marketing aspect of it. I think we’re all good with that. We’re good with letting people see inside the process. But also I don’t think we can lose sight of football. It’s important we get this process right. I’d be hard-pressed to find another city that could do it like Indy.’’

Tom Telesco spent 15 years with the Colts, starting as an area scout in 1998 and climbing to director of player personnel in 2006. He was named the Chargers’ general manager in 2013, but still enjoys returning to Indy . . . for personal and business reasons.

“I get the chance to come home for a little bit, so I like it here,’’ Telesco said. “Living here for 15 years, I like coming back here. I know one thing: Indianapolis does a great job with all the events they’ve had here, and they handle it really well.

“I know for us the proximity of everything that’s here – the stadium, the hotels and all of the medical process on the back side of it – that’s really important. Everything runs really well here.

“Will they move it someday? I don’t know. But I know that . . . it’s run really well here.’’

Rams GM Les Snead said the possibility of relocating the Combine was “above my pay grade. That’s a big-time decision there.

“But I can tell you what I do like is Indy’s been unbelievable seeing this place grow and evolve from the start. It’s obviously a very convenient way to do business.’’

 

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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