Too much overlap caused NFL to create annual Scouting Combine

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

The NFL's original player health and safety event starts in Indianapolis this week in the NFL Scouting Combine.

How did it start? Why is it in Indianapolis? And where did the name "combine" come from? National Football Scouting president Jeff Foster clued us last week in to some of the history about the event.

First, the NFL Scouting Combine is an event run by National Football Scouting, not the NFL. The NFS is a scouting service owned equally by 20 NFL teams that manage the Combine under a different corporate name, Foster said.

The NFS was started in 1963 as joint venture of the then-Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and then-St. Louis Cardinals. The same year another scouting service named BLESTO, otherwise known as "BearsLionsEaglesSteelers Talent Organization," began. One year later, in what would become known as Quadra when the expansion New Orleans Saints joined, a third scouting service was started by the Dallas Cowboys, then-Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

All three organizations kept scouting information separate from each other and competed for time and information with college prospects and their coaches for almost two decades. Let's not forget about a third of the league's teams opted to do their own scouting without using any of these services.

That worked fine until each service wanted to bring players together for centralized physical and medical exams.

The New York Jets were the first team to bring in college draft prospects en masse more than 40 years ago, Foster said. That eventually led to the NFS to host the first National Invitational Camp in Tampa in 1982. However, BLESTO quickly started a competing rookie evaluation camp as did Quadra.

"At some point the NFL got involved and said, 'At all of these camps we're doing the same things,'" Foster said. "The students were being removed from school. We were having problems with college relations with the American Football Coaches Association. We were all spending money to collect the same information."

Since NFS was running the largest camp, NFL officials decided the Indianapolis-based group would run the only centralized scouting camp for college prospects and the costs would be shared among all of the then-28 teams. BLESTO, which represents eight teams, is still around but is not involved in organizing the event. Quadra has since dissolved and four teams are not involved in any service.

After the combined camps were held in Phoenix (1985) and New Orleans (1986), the NFL settled in 1987 on Indianapolis, where the NFS is located, as the permanent site. Indianapolis was picked because of its centralized location in the country. It also featured a covered football/convention space in the RCA Dome, which has since been replaced by Lucas Oil Stadium.

NFS now is involved in advanced scouting of college players beginning with their junior season, inviting the candidates to the combine, organizing the medical, mental, physical and athletic exams and then sending the information to all 32 teams.

While many people tune to NFL Network to watch the prospects run the 40-yard dash or their long jumps, Foster said the main reason for the combine was the same then as it is today: to collect medical information on the top college prospects.

"The on-the-field stuff, which is the sexy component of the combine and what gets the interest for media and the broadcast, that's a very small part of the evaluation for the clubs," he said. "I would say 90 percent of the evaluation of a person as a football player is done before he arrives here."

And where did the name "combine" from? Not from a harvester or a railway car. It's simpler than that, Foster said, citing a story he heard from his predecessor.

"The urban myth is that is where the term 'combine' came from -- we combined the camps," Foster said.

  • Coming Wednesday:The combine by the numbers
  • Coming Thursday:Q&A with Marine Corps Reserve Col. Brian McGuire on what a trainer does at the NFL Scouting Combine.
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