NFL sticks with status quo for 40-yard dash timing

Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Officials with National Football Scouting, part of the group that runs the NFL Scouting Combine, confirmed to The Sports Xchange that fully automated timing, used in a secret experiment last year, are not being utilized in the popular 40-yard dash event that began Saturday morning.
"Timing will be the same as past years," an NFS representative told The Sports Xchange. "Two hand-held timers and one electronic on each run. No fully automated timing."
The results of last year's experiment with fully automated timing were revealed only to "a small committee of two or three," according to one NFL team executive, who guessed that the times were so high they might "take the luster off the star in this show."
There has been pressure in recent years to make timing in football's 40-yard like that in international track and field. Football uses a combination of hand-held watches and an electronic beam. On any one 40-yard run at the combine, a player has three times. Two are started and stopped by hand-held watches and one that is started by hand and ended by an electronic beam.
Fully automated timing has no human intervention. Intensive studies, mostly by track and field devotees, suggest that fully automated timing, or FAT, would add .20 to .24 seconds to the 40-yard times at the combine and throughout football.
This would mean that the times that define a player as having elite speed -- now below 4.4 seconds -- would be almost impossible to achieve. Historical perspective would need to shift to define elite speedsters of the future as those who could break 4.6 seconds.
According to, since 2000 the fastest verified 40-yard time at the Combine was 4.21 seconds by LSU wide receiver Trindon Holliday in 2010. Only 25 players have run the 40 in 4.31 seconds or faster at the combine since 2000.
If studies and resulting conversion charts are correct, Holliday's time would be in the 4.41 to 4.45 area and all those elite sprinters who ran 4.31 or better would have times from 4.51 to 4.55 seconds.
"I don't know what the times were from the FAT experiment last year, but if they were too high the players and fans would have a hard time relating," said Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen. "We keep our own times with our scouts, so it doesn't impact us. But for fans and players it might cause a culture shock."
Last year combine officials allowed fans to watch the formerly secretive event live for the first time. This year 800 media are at the combine and 24-hour television coverage is drawing a huge audience. There is money to be made, so this is no time to mess with success.
Although they would be more consistent with internationally accepted methods, the FAT results from that experiment last year may have been so high that combine officials decided to keep the current method, and image.
The 40-yard dash is the most popular showpiece in the fastest-rising event in football, if not all sports. While reality may be a buzzword elsewhere in show business, this is no time to mess with success. So, thus far, combine officials have decided not to allow FAT methods to bloat times in the 40-yard dash.