By MICHAEL MAROT, AP sports journalist
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — This week’s former NFL scouting combine is heading to Hollywood.
The sound of silence will be replaced with music as players practice inside. Results and interviews will appear on video boards at Lucas Oil Stadium and fans will be encouraged to cheer.
It’s unclear if all of these changes herald a drastically different future for the league’s second-biggest offseason event.
But after a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, draft hopefuls, scouts, coaches and team officials are eagerly returning to Indianapolis once again — perhaps the last. times.
“I think club owners would like to have a showpiece event in their city from a fan perspective, from an economic perspective,” said Jeff Foster, chairman of National Football Scouting, which runs the combine. draft in different cities and it took off, I think that’s what sparked the interest and that’s why we started looking at it.”
The emotional debate has been raging for years, although this time seems different.
There’s an expiring contract, the league’s well-known desire to move big events across the country, and three cities — Dallas, Indianapolis and Los Angeles — vying to host the event in 2023 and 2024. Final offers are expected in early April and Foster expects an announcement in late May.
But team executives have long thought Indy was the perfect place. The city has hosted every combine since its inception in 1987 for many reasons, including Indy’s covered lanes, which allow players to attend practices, medicals and team interviews without needing from a car or navigating in an unfamiliar place. Plus, they can find restaurants and entertainment without even going out,
This is not the case everywhere.
“If we move to another city, it will be really difficult for us, especially the first year, because it can be a real challenge to accomplish all the things that we are used to in the same amount of time,” Foster said. “The medical part is the biggest challenge from a logistical point of view.”
If the past few years have taught Foster anything, it’s that the only certainty is change.
In 2020, the combine was one of the last major American sporting events held before the pandemic. Last year, the event was replaced on the program by individual professional days for the players. This year began with agents threatening to boycott player training and interviews due to proposed health restrictions for player support staff. Many top players skip practices anyway.
That boycott was averted last week when medical experts agreed to relax initial guidelines adopted earlier this winter and recently revised due to declining COVID-19 case numbers.
“I think you probably would have seen quite a few of them carrying out that threat,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who will be part of this week’s coverage. “I’m glad it all worked out, but I completely understand where they’re coming from because you came forward with an idea in your mind of how you’re going to prepare for this event, and then that changed late.”
The organizers also made other changes.
They eliminated psychological testing, which shortens players’ schedules by one day. They hope to cut wait times for medicals with another change, and players will do bench press and workouts on the same day after some complained that pain the next day impacted their results. coaching.
League officials have also threatened to punish teams for asking inappropriate questions during interviews.
What fans will see is a new environment for prime-time workouts.
League officials are offering up to 10,000 tickets to seat fans in the stadium’s lower bowl for the first time, separate from scouts. The league averaged 7,800 players over four days in 2019 and 2020.
A DJ will play music during warm-ups and will play softer music during exercises. Food and drink, including beer, will be sold and two hosts in the stadium will delight the crowd.
“We want to make it a bit more fan-friendly environment,” said NFL event and presentation coordinator Katie Conklin. it’s more exciting for the fans.”
It could also help league officials determine whether a more glitzy atmosphere would play better in Dallas or Los Angeles — or whether Indy has what it takes to stage a combine with flair.
“I think logistically there are a lot of things that separate (Indianapolis) from other cities,” Foster said. relationships and history here.”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton also contributed to this report.
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