February 19, 2013
In the next few days, the NFL will begin descending on Indianapolis, and the miracle of offseason programming known as the Combine will fill TV screens again.
But while the rise of the Underwear Olympics in recent years has been remarkable, don't be surprised to see more and more of it (programming, if not actual underwear) in the coming years.
Albert Breer of the NFL Network talked to league officials about the future of the combine, and one of the takeaways was how sincerely the league wants to expand the process.
Two years ago, they bought a system of regional workouts from Elite Football Combines, and have turned them into 10 league-sanctioned events from January to March, with a super-regional in Cowboys Stadium on April 7-8 for those who stood out at regionals.
If that sounds a little bit like American Idol to you, it's not accidental, or the last step. The league's using those smaller events for fringe prospects as a place to test changes they might implement at future combines, but also as a test of the system tat would turn the process of timing and measuring of prospects into an even longer, and more catered-to-television product than it is.
Breer said league officials "envisioned moving the regionals up on the calendar and perhaps moving Indianapolis back," allowing the "winners" of regional combines to advance to the next step.
"The combine won't be maximized until we find a way to link it with the rest of the journey of these guys," said Eric Grubman, NFL CFO and executive vice president of business ventures. "From a football operations standpoint, it's very well-developed. But it's an immature property, from a fan-access and fan-appeal standpoint."
The league has already been open to fiddling with the process, by letting a few reporters into the building during workouts, then a few sponsors and fans, now two days worth of inside access.
It's only a matter of time before the combine turns from a long-weekend spectacle, to a miniseries of original programming for the network which might stretch over three months, in which some wide receiver from Southwest Nowhere State might become the latest reality television star.