Before the NFL Combine was created in the mid-1980s, teams scheduled visits with prospects, flying future players out to their respective cities to undergo similar tests and exams that are currently featured today in Indianapolis. Former Dallas Cowboys President and General Manager Tex Schramm raised the issue with the competition committee in 1982, streamlining the idea of an organized scouting camp preceding the NFL Draft. In Tampa, Florida the first national combine took place later that year called the National Invitational Camp, moving around to places like New Orleans and Arizona before settling down in Indianapolis in 1987. For a brief period of three years (1982-1984) there were three separate camps before a merger in 1985, keeping the National Invitational Camp name.
Karen Crouse of the New York Times writes in a 2007 editorial that the "combine drew scant outside interest. Gil Brandt said 20 reporters attended the event 10 years ago. A total of 400 credentials were issued (in 2007)."
Interest in the NFL Combine has grown exponentially in the past eight years, even with selected fans and a growing media base that covers the event. According to Crouse’s editorial in 2007:
There was no television coverage before 2004, when the fledgling NFL Network carried 10 hours, none live. It televised 14 hours in 2005, much of it live, and 26 hours last year. (In 2007), it is carrying 27 hours while introducing high definition and live interviews with panting players fresh from the 40, among other drills.
There was more than 50 hours of live coverage on the NFL Network this year, with NFL.com supplementing additional coverage not entirely part of the NFL Network broadcast. Coaches answered questions during press conferences to start the event, performances of drills were shown live and prospects were interviewed between those drills. That’s the NFL for you. It takes a simple scouting event, designed for scouts, team personnel and medical staffs to check prospects, all of whom are gathered in one location for a single weekend, into a massive event that even the most average NFL fan can’t disregard.
There are more draft experts today than ever since the start of the inaugural National Invitational Camp in 1982, many of whom rarely watch enough games of respective players due to the sheer volume of film required to generate informed assessments. Many of whom absentmindedly weigh a player’s performance at the NFL Combine more than their performances during their respective college careers, increasing their overall draft stock. These prospects are often referred to as workout warriors if they struggle in the NFL, many of whom dominate drills, rarely showing anything worthwhile during games.
Additionally, a prospect’s body type fluctuates in weight and body mass due to the training regiment required for the drills they’re scheduled to undergo. Conclusively prospects never trained to be football players leading up to the NFL Combine; rather they train to look good during drills due to the enormity of the NFL Combine and its direct consequence for the NFL draft. Now players will start training to become football players, taking part in drills related to the positions that they play during upcoming Pro Days.
Though many agree that the NFL is one of the more exciting brands of professional sports, all you really have to do is point to their tremendous ability to promote events like the NFL Combine into more than it really is. Fans tune in and tweet shocking 40-times that were unexpected, or the suddenly degradation of expectations regarding a prospect based on poor results from drills.
It's just another day in the NFL.