In this space, I try to encourage people who want a place in football to go their own way, and to find their own route to success. I was talking to a couple friends in football over the past week, one a scout and one who runs all-star games, and they each discussed an idea I’ve always thought about: basically, it’s a combine with pads.
Most folks who run all-star games are football guys. They aren’t TV people and they aren’t ticket sales experts, but they have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to broadcast the games (that’s right — they PAY for air time rather than receiving money for broadcast rights) and hope they get 5,000-6,000 fans at the gate (which is about right for most all-star games). What they’d like to focus on, usually, is compiling a talented roster of players and some good coaches, then making sure NFL teams have all the information they need.
So what if they could just focus on their areas of expertise? What if there was a week of practice without a game? What if a game could run full-contact workouts that were more than just the 90-minute exercises, often not even in pads, that you see at all-star games?
What if you brought in the top 330 or so players and ran them through workouts on three adjacent fields? You started on Monday, had weigh-ins and covered plays, then turned the players loose for three days of head-to-head action? If the league got on board with it, this model could revolutionize the game, giving players more time to prepare for their pro day and potentially eliminating the need for a combine, or at least reducing its importance.
There are a couple of holdups. No. 1 is money, of course. The NFL is always reluctant to open its wallet, especially when there’s a reasonably good facsimile of an idea already in place (minor league football, anyone?). The other hurdle is that the league hates change. People from all walks of football have told me this, and it’s the only reason in the world why teams essentially conduct 32 different scouting operations rather than centralizing the obvious things like weigh-ins (for instance, why do 32 teams’ scouts sit in one room, writing down heights and weights with pencil and paper, when one intern could do it for all of them?).
So, there are always holdups, but there’s an idea, ready to go and on the house. Would it be an easy sell? Of course not. But I feel, and others I talk to feel, that it’s an idea whose time has come.