With the Super Bowl concluded and the Green Bay Packers crowned world champions, the next major event on the NFL calendar is the NIC (National Invitational Camp) Combine. The 2011 Combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis, Ind., and will be held Feb. 23-March 1.
This yearly event brings several thousand NFL league and team officials and personnel, along with more than 330 of the top college NFL prospects, to this single location. The event is operated by the NFL in conjunction with the NFS (National Football Scouting) organization and its director, Jeff Foster.
The NIC, more commonly known as the NFL Scouting Combine, began in 1982, when NFS first conducted a camp for its members of NFL clubs in Tampa, Fla.
In 1964, there were four organizations formed that held private workouts throughout the United States, or jointly with other clubs. These organizations were CEPO, Galaxy, Quadra and United.
CEPO (Central Eastern Personnel Organization) was made up of the Colts, Browns, Packers and Cardinals. GALAXY had four team members: Houston, Denver, the Jets and Saints. TROIKA was formed by the Dallas Cowboys and later renamed QUADRA, a West Coast combine that included San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego and two others, with one located in Dallas, Tex., and the other in St. Louis. Over time, CEPO and Galaxy merged to form UNITED Combines. Several years later, UNITED and QUADRA formed an organization that stands today: NFS or National Football Scouting.
In 1963, the first professional scouting combine was formed. It was called LESTO, involving the Lions, Eagles and Steelers, and became BLESTO once the Chicago Bears joined. Soon, LESTO was changed to BLESTO-V with the Minnesota Vikings joining in the mid-late 60s. Currently, this organization is simply known as BLESTO.
Today there are seven teams that stand as independent of the two scouting organizations, NFS and BLESTO. Those teams are Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New England, Oakland, Atlanta and Washington.
Despite being independents, all 28 teams in 1985 became members of the NIC when they finally settled in Indianapolis, after spending 1983 in New Orleans and 1984 in Arizona. Neither site had sufficient hospitals or medical outlets to support such a large endeavor.
The main goal of the NIC since 1963 has been to gather in one central location, where all member teams can collaborate on the medical information for the draft-eligible prospects. While the first NIC combine was attended by 163 prospects, today more than 330 participants turn out, including seniors and declared underclassmen. All member teams share the yearly cost of the NIC, player flights, medical exams and hospital fees.
I became a scout in 1995 for the Carolina Panthers, when the landscape for the NIC was much different. I was given a list of 25 names. I was responsible for gathering information off a questionnaire of 30 queries that related to family and high-school background, medical and character issues and other key issues that were standard directives from the general manager.
Prospects were housed in the Crowne Plaza, which remains the case today. However, that is one of the few comparisons to be made. It was so disorganized and dysfunctional back then with utter chaos everywhere. I saw scouts arguing in front of the players, pushing and shoving matches, and coaches and scouts fist fighting – on the same team, all while trying to compete for some time with a prospect. I quickly got acclimated to the process and went to work. After several years of this madness, my thoughts were, “We can put men on the moon, but can’t organize this any better.” It was embarrassing for the players and the NFL.
After several players were caught in various nightclubs and walking the streets late at night within the downtown area, giving the league a black eye, the NFL took over the NIC. Reebok won the bid for sponsorship and the NFL Network now shows the NIC Combine, broadcasting to millions. Who knows; selling the workout drills as an event to the public could be next.
The event is held in Lucas Oil Stadium. All participants, team members and working employees hired by NIC and the media must be credentialed through the league office. Security in and around the stadium, and at the Crowne Plaza, where the players are housed, is extremely tight. You must have a badge to gain access, and all badges have levels of clearance. NFL Network and several of the teams rent out suites so employees have a gathering place to serve lunch and have the ability to watch college tape in the early morning that continues to trickle in from the NFL Dub center.
Let’s touch upon the participants. A selection committee of NFL personnel directors, along with NFS and BLESTO directors, gather every December and form a listing for the upcoming NIC. This committee remains anonymous; college coaches and agents work extremely hard, under the radar, to get their clients into the combine. Each player added to the initial listing must receive a certain number of votes from the committee in order to receive an invitation.
Once the prospects arrive in Indianapolis, a member of the working group for NIC greets them at the airport (baggage claim), helps them secure their luggage and puts them on ground transportation to the Crowne Plaza. Once at the hotel, they are checked in and given badges, participation gear and itinerary for their days at the NIC.
The present NIC structure is a tight, well-oiled machine. Its many functioning parts are well-designed and are sublime compared to my first experience in 1995. Each player group will be in Indianapolis for four days and follow the same schedule.
Arriving on Wednesday are Group 1 (punters, kickers and long snappers), Group 2 (offensive linemen) and Group 3 (tight ends). Thursday, it’s Group 4 (quarterbacks snd wide receivers), Group 5 (more quarterbacks and wide receivers) and Group 6 (running backs). On Friday, the arrivals are Group 7 (defensive linemen), Group 8 (more defensive linemen) and Group 9 (linebackers). Finally, on Saturday, Groups 10 and 11 (both defensive backs) arrive.
Each player’s day is the same. Day 1: Travel, registration, pre-exams and X-rays, orientation and team interviews. Day 2: Measurements, exams, media, psychological testing, and more team interviews. Day 3: NFLPA meeting, psychological testing, team interviews. Day 4: Workouts (timing, stations, skill drills).
The only variation is that kickers, punters and long snappers work out on the third day instead of the fourth.