Head of NFL Scouting Combine: ‘There’s a reason we’ve been here for 33 years’

Central Florida defensive back Mike Hughes (DB15) runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 5, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jeff Foster and Chris Gahl are in lockstep on two issues.

  • The NFL Scouting Combine is where it belongs: Indy.
  • No one responsible for luring the league’s annual, exhaustive pre-draft evaluation process of incoming collegiate talent to town in 1987– and keeping it here – is taking anything for granted.

“There’s a reason we’ve been here for 33 years,’’ offered Foster, president of the locally-based NFL Scouting Combine. “It really fits. That’s a real credit to the city of Indianapolis and some of the great partners here like IU Health and Visit Indy.’’

The immediate future of the Combine is set. The current contract runs through 2020, ensuring Indy will take its annual place as the epicenter of the NFL next week – the first wave of a record-337 players arrive in town Monday – and again next February.

After that, well, that’s to be determined.

“We have the Combine safe and sound to be hosted in 2020,’’ said Gahl, senior vice-president of marketing and communications with Visit Indy. “And we are actively in discussions with the NFL and the Scouting Combine staff on extending that.

“We’ve been actively discussing the future of the Combine in Indianapolis for months, and will continue to based on the relationship and closeness we’ve developed over the years with the NFL.’’

Again, Foster and Gahl read from the same script when lobbying for the appropriateness of Indy hosting the Combine. Everything and everybody is nestled downtown and radiates from Lucas Oil Stadium. Perhaps the most attractive feature is the proximity of IU Health, which is invaluable considering the importance of medical exams. That includes hundreds of MRIs.

The construction of Lucas Oil Stadium involved several non-Colts amenities. The blueprints included four locker rooms to accommodate NCAA Final Fours/earlier tournament rounds and 12 meeting rooms that could serve as quasi hospital rooms. Fiber-optic cables were laid underground connecting the stadium to IU Health, providing physicians the ability to evaluate “real-time imaging,’’ according to Gahl.

“The basis why this event is held is to have 300 or so athletes have a job interview,’’ he said. “Everything is done in a very short amount of time; therefore you have to have a tight production schedule or event schedule.

“If the purpose of the event is to seamlessly execute 300-400 athletes through the Combine, there’s no better city in the nation logistically laid out than Indianapolis.’’

Spoken like a true Indy advocate. The Combine is one of approximately 700 convention events on the city’s 2019 docket. It’s expected to attract more than 5,000 individuals – athletes, GMs/owners, coaches, scouts, fans – and Visit Indy projects an economic impact of $8.4 million.

Included in the anticipated visitor surge are media types from across the nation. The NFL is expected to issue more than 1,400 credentials, the most ever for the Combine and second only to the Super Bowl in terms of a credentialed event.

The week-long PR for Indy is invaluable.

“Hundreds of hours of coverage on NFL Network will be in and out with those beautiful shots of the city skyline and 1,400 journalists talking about the Xs and Os, but also their dining experience and the city as a whole,’’ Gahl said.

“As I said, we have never taken this for granted, nor will we because we know the impact the Combine has financially and also from a marketing perspective. It’s a powerful group of 5,000 people here for several days.’’

The Combine’s popularity makes it attractive to other cities, and the NFL has made it clear it’s open to moving around signature events with its handling of the draft. At one time there were exploratory discussions at relocating the Combine to Orlando, Fla., and the NFL’s return to Los Angeles has sparked speculation on a move to the West Coast. The new home of the Rams and Chargers in Inglewood opens in 2020, and it’s possible the $6 billion complex would be capable of adding the Combine to its schedule in 2021 or 2022.

Foster’s preference is clear, but realizes if the NFL decides to uproot the Combine for the sake of marketability, that’s what will happen.

For now, he’s concerned with making certain everything goes off without a hitch. Foster and his staff have gotten the routine down through years of work/practice, but it’s no small matter making sure 300-plus athletes are where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there.

There are interviews with teams, extensive medical exams and psychological testing, and on-field workouts.

The increased popularity of the Combine has resulted in increased access by NFL Network. This year, Foster had to adjust his schedule for March 2. That’s a week from Saturday when quarterbacks, wideouts and tight ends work out.

ESPN and ABC will broadcast a good portion of the pitching-and-catching live from 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

It’s only realistic to envision expanded live TV access to workouts moving forward. How long before the NFL agrees to really testing Foster’s ability to adjust and moving individual workouts to prime time?

“Change is hard for all of us, but we understand. In some ways we’ve created our own monster,’’ Foster said. “We want this to be smooth. We want this to be a great environment for the players to perform and the clubs to evaluate.

“At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing for us. We’re trying to protect the integrity of the football component.’’

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