INDIANAPOLIS – Kevin Colbert has been in town for almost 48 hours, and he hasn't seen a single on-field drill, or interviewed a single player, or really done any of the things for which the NFL Scouting Combine was created.
He has, though, done a whole bunch of interviews.
It was Tex Schramm, the president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89, who proposed to the NFL competition committee an idea about a centralization of the evaluation of the draft eligible prospects each year. Prior to 1982, teams had to schedule individual visits with players to run them through drills and tests, but thanks to Schramm's proposal the National Invitation Camp was first held in Tampa, in 1982.
What used to be the National Invitation Camp came to be known as the NFL Scouting Combine, and no one who was there in Tampa 33 years ago could have envisioned what it has become.
"The combine has grown into a media event, much like a lot of things that the NFL does. That's not a bad thing," said Colbert at the end of a two-hour media gauntlet he walked starting at 10 a.m. today. "That's just where it is. Obviously our fans have great interest in our game, and they have great interest in our game year round."
The media is sequestered in one of the Lucas Oil Field club lounges during the Combine, and part of the area becomes a makeshift radio row and on-site studio for all of the networks and team websites on hand to cover the event. Where once there were a couple of media outlets and a limited presence of team websites, now the entire area is jammed with equipment and the sounds of broadcasts and updates.
"In the past, when it first started to grow, I was against it," said Colbert. "When NFL Network came in and started televising everything, I was concerned that it would take away from the football, and just the opposite happened. The coverage has inspired more players to participate and the participation spiked when it went on TV. So as long as it continues to be a non-hindrance to the football aspect of things, we're all for it."
And so it was that Kevin Colbert began his 2015 tour at 10 a.m. at Podium A inside the Media Center. Then it was out to radio row and a sit-down with SiriusXM Radio. Then down the corridor a little bit where CBSSports.com had a seat reserved for him on their set. Then Colbert made his way to the other end of the hallway to do a segment with Steelers.com Live, then across the way and to a segment on Steelers Nation Radio. Colbert's final stop was at an area where he accommodated the local Pittsburgh media in attendance, first a one-on-one with a television station and then a group interview with a small group of writers.
Colbert was the first of 24 coaches and General Managers to take the podium inside the Media Center on Wednesday, with another 20 scheduled for Thursday, three more on Friday, and one on Saturday.
"Because again, the fans want to know what is going on, and they deserve to know what is going on," said Colbert. "This gives them that opportunity this time of year."
The question, of course, now becomes: what's next? Now that the NFL Combine has become a media event, now that the NFL Combine is televised live and then re-packaged and re-broadcast in the weeks and months between now and the draft on April 30-May 2, what's next to boost the interest and juice the television ratings?
How about making the drills competitive? Imagine the breathless analysis that would result if, say, the 40-yard dash was run as a race between two players at the same position.
"Yeah, (racing guys) would be great TV. And we could have two guys fight it out, and that might be good for the ratings, too, but none of that would be good for the players," said Colbert. "I think you have to weigh the risk of injury against the value that you are getting from the drill. I think a player (competing) against himself is probably the safest way to gather this information. You start pitting them against each other, you can't properly time a 40-yard dash that way. So, I don't think it would work."
Well, then what about opening it up to fans? With the maniacal interest the NFL Draft attracts every spring, imagine if the same people who fill the balcony during the actual picking of the players were allowed to fill the seats at Lucas Oil Stadium and join the process at its earliest stages?
"They have a limited number (of fans now) that they allow in. I think it's 200-300, and they can attend on Saturday and Sunday," said Colbert. "I think fans in the stands could be a distraction, because it wouldn't be like golf. When a golfer is lining up to take a shot, he has people controlling the crowd. That's easy when you have 50 people standing around a tee box and they can throw them out. But when you are in a stadium like this, and someone yells out when a kid is getting ready to start his 40-yard dash, I think that can be a little hard to manage."