INDIANAPOLIS -- It's impossible to tell from the volume of people attending this week -- with a reported 400 credentials assigned for a once-intimate event -- but the NFL's annual combine may have lost touch with the purpose for which it was originally intended: saving money.
Created in 1985, when it was staged in Phoenix (it didn't move full-time to Indy until 1987), the combine was concocted by league personnel men to help defray the costs of parading all over the country to attend the pro day workouts of individual players. The rationale was that by bringing most of the viable prospects to one site, the scouts' expensive day trips to campuses for auditioning players might be somewhat curtailed, and the franchises would save money on airfare.
But that concept lost its way when players began avoiding workouts in Indianapolis, forcing NFL scouts to attend their pro days anyway and restoring costs to budgets once pared because of the combine. Although participation has improved over the past few years, roughly 30 to 40 percent of the 300-plus prospects invited to the combine fail to complete the battery of interviews and drills.
And because of that, and the significance of the draft and of filling out a full résumé on a player, pro days have actually become more important. Instead of doing one or the other, franchises are forced to attend the combine and individual pro day workouts.
"If you're going to invest [millions of dollars] in a guy, you want to make the most informed decision possible," said Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. "And that means getting as much information as you can, whatever that entails."
Take the quarterback position. For various reasons, none of the five top-rated quarterbacks -- Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame), Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan), Colt McCoy (Texas) or Tim Tebow (Florida) -- will throw here. So teams will have no choice but to attend their pro days.
Over the years, the bigger importance of the combine has become the thorough physical examinations at Methodist Hospital, which keeps its X-ray department open virtually 24 hours during combine week, and the 15-minute interviews that teams get with players. And some scouts are beginning to sour on the interview process.
"First off, kids are smarter, and you're not going to surprise them [with a question]," Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said. "And they take classes now that prepare them [for the interviews], and so some of them are pretty well rehearsed."
Pittsburgh director of football operations Kevin Colbert noted that, after some initial reservations about the impact of having the NFL Network exclusively televise the combine workouts, he feels that the television cameras have helped augment participation a little bit.
"It's become more competitive [because of television]," Colbert said. "Kids see other kids running and they get pumped up and figure, 'I can do better than that.' It's one of the benefits of having TV there."
Still, the benefits of the modern-day combine are far removed from what they were once supposed to be.