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NFL to make a decision on the 2021 Scouting Combine

What’s going to happen with the Combine?

NFL: Combine Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Scouting Combine is one of the biggest events on the League’s calendar. But with the national challenges of operating amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there are significant questions regarding the state of the Combine in 2021.

Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the NFL will make its decision regarding the status of the Scouting Combine in 2021 this week.

The Combine serves a number of purposes for the NFL. For those of us on the outside, is it a rare spectacle putting the incredible athleticism of NFL caliber athletes on display, four days of interest to help break up the off-season monotony. It also gives us a chance to see the year’s top prospects on the same field together, performing the same drills and events. It lets us compare and contrast the various traits and skill sets of various prospects from around the nation on a level playing field.

It does all that for the scouts and front office personnel in the NFL, but it also serves a number of even more important functions to which we aren’t privy.

The Combine got its start as a clearing house to make gathering important medical information about the prospects as efficient as possible, with the league sharing their medical reports and making sure all the prospects in attendance are evaluated similarly. And that’s occasionally important for the prospects as well, as there have been several who have had life-threatening medical conditions discovered during their Combine exams.

It also serves as an unofficial league meeting for scouts, coaches, GMs, and owners. Many of the moves — such as trades — we see made in the run-up (or during) the draft get their start in Indianapolis.

The biggest question to answer is just how could the NFL hold the combine safely this year? With hundreds of prospects and nearly the whole front office, scouting department, and coaching staff of every NFL team in attendance, the logistics of preventing a massive COVID-19 outbreak are daunting to say the least.

Schefter reports that the League is debating whether the Combine should be downsized, postponed to April — which could be complicated by the NCAA basketball tournament — held as series of regional combines, or not held at all.

Considering the information — and revenue — that cancelling the Combine would deny the NFL, that might be the least-likely option.

A series of regional combines might limit the amount of travel for prospects, but it could also see representatives from the teams traveling across the country, which still bears significant risk.

Perhaps delaying the Combine slightly, reducing the number of attendants, and perhaps instituting a strict testing and a “bubble” could limit the risk while still allowing the League to gather the information it needs to inform its decision.

As Schefter writes, “The NFL and combine officials still are investigating alternatives, but there are so many issues that few ever envisioned, as has been the case with every event on the league’s calendar. But the combine as people knew it will not take place. Questions loom on whether it will be held, how downsized it will be, when it will be held — and all are likely to be answered in the coming days.”