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Keeping NFL Scouting Combine ‘paramount’ to city officials; decision coming

Linebacker Eric Striker of Oklahoma runs the 40-yard dash during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jim Irsay openly lobbied last weekend for the city to expand its NFL presence.

“We gotta get the draft,’’ the Indianapolis Colts owner said. “We’ve gotta get the draft.’’

But first things first.

And that brings us to the NFL Scouting Combine.

“Yes we have an interest in the NFL Draft,’’ Chris Gahl, senior vice-president of marketing and communications with Visit Indy, said Thursday. “But first and foremost keeping the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis based on longevity is paramount.’’

The NFL’s annual player evaluation process has called Indy home since 1987, and will return next February as well. After that? The ball’s in the NFL’s court.

City officials and Jeff Foster, president of the locally-based National Football Scouting which runs the Combine, have been in discussions for more than a year with the NFL in an attempt at keeping the high-profile event in Indy.

“We’re still in a holding pattern,’’ Gahl said. “We’re still waiting to hear the Combine’s decision on keeping the event here safe and sound past 2020. We would anticipate hearing in the next month on where they land.

“We’re hopefully optimistic they’ll stay in Indy.’’

Foster has been heavily involved in the discussions, and routinely has conveyed the depth of his belief Indy is the best locale for the Combine. But he’s also aware of the league’s desire to maximize the Combine’s ever-growing popularity and marketability.

It’s believed the NFL wouldn’t mind one bit if the Combine moved to the West Coast and settled in the $6 billion complex in Inglewood, Calif. that opens in 2020 and will host the Rams and Chargers.

Foster’s give-and-take with league officials to keep the Combine in Indy has included concessions to accommodate whatever requests have been made by networks. In February, quarterback/receivers’ drills were shown live during a two-hour broadcast on ESPN and ABC. Next year, some of the workouts are expected to be moved into prime-time slots.

Foster, league general managers and personnel individuals want to maintain the integrity of the Combine. It’s a week-long event aimed at providing medical, psychological and on-field testing leading up to the draft.

“It would be foolish for us to move it from Indy,’’ Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “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.’’

Again, the clock is ticking.

Chasing the draft

Gahl admitted there’s growing interest in bringing the NFL Draft to Indy.

“We’ve had preliminary discussions,’’ he said of city officials and the Colts. “We’re in agreement it’s something we should take a healthy look at.

“It’s just the timing of making a more official pitch.’’

After being embedding in New York for more than half-a-century, the NFL Draft began moving around: Chicago (2015-16), Philadelphia (2017), Dallas (2018) and Nashville, Tenn last week. It’s headed to Las Vegas in 2020.

Indy would seem a likely destination at some point, but only if the logistics could be worked out. The city’s calendar for conventions and sporting events always is loaded, and many of those events are scheduled “eight-to-10 years in the future,’’ Gahl said.

Joint camp work set

The Colts’ summer experience at Grand Park in Westfield will include joint workouts with the Cleveland Browns. Irsay announced the Colts and Browns would share the practice fields Aug. 14-15. The two teams meet in a preseason game Aug. 17 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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