Should The NFL Move The Combine Out Of Indianapolis?

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since 1987, the NFL Scouting Combine has been held in Indianapolis.

Over many years with the mecca of the midwest playing host, some of the greatest football figures to ever bless the game have walked those streets, ate at those bars and sat in those stands.

When you think of the combine, you think of Indianapolis.

But could that conscious train of thought be coming to an end?

This year the NFL moved its workouts to prime time. After years and years of drills happening in the early morning, the league and NFL Network saw a big opportunity for viewership revenue as the popularity of the draft has continually increased.

According to Pro Football Talk, the NFL got its wish with an increase in ratings for that first night of prime time.

Thursday’s live coverage of the combine averaged 322,000 viewers, a 119-percent increase over last year’s Day 1, which aired from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m EST. Thursday night’s peak rating, which NFL Network achieved from 9 to 9:15 p.m. EST, was 517,000 viewers.

But were the ratings worth it?

It was nearly unanimous to move the workouts to prime time to see what the ratings would be, but it was also about as unanimous when talking to people around Indianapolis that this new schedule is not ideal. There were plenty of prospects who opted to not workout at the combine, and the new schedule could be why. 

Trainers and agents were worried that the change in time could affect results, or even worse, cause injury. Most players train in the early morning, and the body clock acclimation, as well as the change in nutrition before the workouts, raised concern.

The prime time workouts made for long days for everyone involved. There was happening all at once, but most days started at 6:00 a.m and ended at 11:00 p.m. EST.

Players like Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen suffer hamstring injuries during their 40-yard dash attempts, and Jeffrey Okudah looked "off" during his on-field drills. Were these results of the change of schedule? There's no way of telling, but I can tell you that those who aren't for the new schedule will use it as ammo against the change.

Colts owner Jim Irsay announced that the combine will remain in Indianapolis through 2021, so there won't be a location change in the immediate future. But if the league decides that this new schedule is the direction it wants to go, that could open the door for the combine to move coasts.

You need a large city with the structure to handle up to 5,000-plus people flooding into one area for about a week, as reported by the Colts. It would also require a stadium with a dome for controlled testing, and the new location would also likely be on the west coast since prime time would make for shorter days and allow prospects to be more prepared to run earlier in the day.

So with this criteria, what options are there?

The Arizona Cardinals’ stadium just outside of Phoenix could be an option. San Francisco has the structure, but not the indoor stadium. Las Vegas has the capacity to host and will have a new indoor stadium built soon, but do we really want prospects walking around the streets of Vegas during Combine Week?

The most logical solution is Los Angeles.

On top of checking all of the boxes from the list mentioned above, many of these athletes already train in LA. It would eliminate the body clock change and allow them to train during the same hours the drills would eventually be held.

But not everyone is as thrilled about the idea of the combine moving locations. One of the most opponents was Colt general manager Chris Ballard.

"Nobody does it better than Indy,” Ballard said. “What [president and director of the National Invitational Camp] Jeff Foster and his staff do to put this event together — especially with all the changes that we’ve made, the changes to football, with television, putting everything to prime time, to adjust the schedule — Jeff Foster and his staff have been unbelievable and had to jump through a bunch of hoops to be able to get this done this year. It’s going to continue to adjust as we go along and as we progress. Nobody does it better than him. We’re fortunate to have it here."

And Ballard wasn't alone. 

Former NFL Network analyst and now general manager of the Raiders Mike Mayock said he would keep it in Indianapolis, even if that meant the city of his team didn't get some extra draft attention.

“I think the NFL would be crazy to move it from Indy," Mayock said. "I’ve been here close to 20 years now. People forget it’s not about Thursday through Sunday night when the players work out. It’s about the medical, the psychological ... you’ve got to move 337 kids throughout the city with hospitals, doctors ... if you go anywhere else, you’re not going to have anywhere near the portability or the convenience of this city. Outside of the fact it’s February, and it’s cold here, the NFL might want to move it around, and do what they did with the draft, I really don’t care about that. I care about the efficiency of the football operation. And I think they’d be crazy to move it.”

There will certainly be plenty of conversations around the polarizing new schedule before anything becomes official with the location for 2022 and beyond. But right now there's plenty of push back on how things are set up, and there seems to be just as much evidence and support in favor of moving the combine compared to those who wish to keep it where it's been for over three decades.