The status of the NFL scouting combine, held annually in Indianapolis shortly after the Super Bowl, suddenly is in doubt.
According to an ESPN report, the league will make a decision on whether the combine will remain in its typical spot this winter, moved to another location, reimagined or perhaps canceled.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused concerns about the viability of pulling off an in-person event in which thousands of people — NFL coaches and scouts, agents, prospects, media and more — descend on the city in a short period of time.
The combine was scheduled in its standard Indianapolis location for March 8-11. That date is now in serious doubt.
And from what Yahoo Sports has gathered in recent weeks, one major concern from teams, league officials, agents and event planners, as well as health officials in Indianapolis, is that there’s a fear such a mass gathering could lead to a coronavirus outbreak that will unduly tax the local hospitals.
Indianapolis also has been selected as the epicenter for the bubbled 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, tentatively scheduled to begin March 14 and run through the first weekend of April.
The city has been host to the combine annually since 1987. It serves as an NFL hub of sorts for a week in the offseason, as most of the league’s heavy hitters all converge to interview prospects, meet with agents and plan offseason agendas.
The combine was initially created as a way for NFL teams to receive streamlined medical information for NFL draft prospects, and it still holds that purpose. It also has become big business. NFL Network broadcasts the workouts and player interviews, providing a week’s worth of media content.
There have been reports that the combine will eventually move to Los Angeles, home of NFL Network, in the future. This year is the last the combine was reportedly guaranteed to stay in Indianapolis, with no further agreements for future years between the city and the league.
What are the NFL’s options for 2021?
There appear to be three possible alternatives to the standard NFL scouting combine setting:
It could be delayed until April, or perhaps outright canceled.
It might be reduced in scope, with the number of scouts, coaches, media and player representatives cut back.
The event could be moved to another city, or perhaps with multiple cities across the country chosen to serve as regional combine events.
There is evidence that the combine won’t be held in Indianapolis during its current time slot.
Multiple scouts and team officials cast doubt on things happening as usual, and one source speculated that it could be canceled outright. There have been reports of football-related vendors having their meeting spaces at the Indiana Convention Center canceled and their money refunded.
One agent told Yahoo Sports last week that his hotel reservation was suddenly canceled and refunded as well, without explanation. In addition, most of the city’s top restaurants — which act as meeting places for the NFL’s decision makers and power brokers — have wide-open reservation times during the March 8-11 window.
On top of that, the scouting combine is not currently listed on the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium events page. Last week a spokesman told Yahoo Sports that no events are currently being booked because of COVID restrictions but would not indicate if that meant the combine wasn’t happening as planned.
Also, not a single 2021 NFL draft prospect has announced his invitation to the combine, and those social media posts tend to flood in starting in early January.
There is a belief that pro-day workouts are likely to happen in many places either way, pending local health trends and restrictions. Even so, the lack of baseline prospects measurements and health information will tax scouting staffs if there’s no proper combine substitute.
We should find out soon what the plan is. It’s possible the combine will be considerably different in 2021 — and that the final combine in Indianapolis is already in the books.
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