The NFL Scouting Combine has become an event as big as Super Bowl media day, with hundreds of media members flocking to Indianapolis to watch the country's top college football prospects run around in spandex shorts and t-shirts, beginning the process of NFL matriculation.
The NFL combine used to be a closed event for scouts and NFL team personnel, but smartly sensing an offseason marketing opportunity, the league has opened its doors and television cameras to fans. For the last few years, the most ardent NFL supporters are given total combine access.
Well...almost total combine access.
The NFL does an incredible job of promoting the results that come out of the combine, showing nearly every participant of the four-day event on the NFL Network, while constantly updating its website dedicated to the combine with up-to-the-minute results of each drill.
Do you want to know who ran the fastest 40-yard dash? Who had the most reps on the bench press? Who has the best vertical leap in this year's draft class? All of those results, in addition to the broad jump, three-cone drill and 20- and 60-yard shuttle runs, are available online.
Heck, the NFL even allows fans to go back over the previous seven seasons to compare this year's draft class to previous combine participants. The information is incredible for draftniks and casual fans alike.
But it's not complete.
While the NFL lauds the performances on the field, the league makes a point to not publish the results of its Wonderlic test, which attempts to assess a player's decision-making ability. The Wonderlic test results have been strictly confidential, but every year reports leak out within days of the combine to laud the players who do the best on the test (thank you agents) and mock those who do inconceivably poorly (thank you teams trying to drive down the stock of a top prospect) on the test.
It happens every year, and every year there's a unique combination of media mockery of how poorly some players do on the test and outrage at how the numbers always leak out to the public. (Frankly, I never understand why some members of the media get upset when the numbers are leaked. I'm not for mocking the players who do poorly, but ripping those who release the hidden numbers smacks of cronyism over journalism.)
Why not just release all the results?
I don't understand why the NFL is so apt to alert us how high and far a player can jump but goes to great lengths to hide from the public how smart (or not) a player is. Why promote the brawn and not the brain?
Now, the Wonderlic is a test that's been used for over 30 years, and recent studies have shown the test to be rather flawed—and perhaps biased on a basic socioeconomic level—so it's understandable why the NFL wouldn't want those results to get out, especially if the widespread results indicated that players of certain positions, economic backgrounds or, potentially, race fared better at the Wonderlic than others.
This season, admitting the flaws of the Wonderlic—seriously, who can answer 50 questions in 12 minutes?—the NFL has added a new test to the combine process. The Player Assessment Tool, or PAT, is a 60-minute computerized personality test that looks at not just how book smart a prospect is, but how well he can understand the playbook.
The PAT is also designed to see how well a prospect can apply his "football smarts" on and off the field and how his personality will mesh with the current makeup of a team's locker room.
The test, conceptualized by attorney Cyrus Mehri and created by Harold Goldstein, an associate professor of psychology at Baruch College, is like the Wonderlic on steroids, if you pardon the expression. Ultimately, the goal is for the PAT to provide far more pertinent information to teams than the Wonderlic is able to provide, thereby rendering the old test obsolete.
The question for the millions of amateur draftniks who will be waiting this weekend with bated breath to see the combine results is simple: Will the NFL release those test results, or will the PAT fall under the same gag order as the Wonderlic?
I'm not blaming the league on this issue either.
The NFLPA is in business to protect its players, and that certainly means protecting draftees from any public scrutiny as they prepare for the magnified gaze of the NFL community. Even if the league wants to publish the "brain" test results alongside the "brawn" test results, it's in the NFLPA's best interest to fight that.
Truth be told, neither side wants its new players looking like dummies. That said, if this new test is designed to give a well-rounded assessment of the players' applicable football intelligence, it stands to reason the league and players association would both want this information to get out.
Moreover, the players, their agents and more specifically the teams should want this information out.
Yes, those who perform poorly on the test will be unfairly ridiculed by media and fans, but the numbers get out anyway, and the ridicule is even worse when there are just one or two players whose poor test scores we can cherry-pick.
If 300 players take a test and we only see who scored above 45 and below 10, there isn't a ton of context for what every player at the combine—or each player at a common position—scored. We don't mock the offensive lineman for running a 40-yard dash a full second slower than the defensive backs because we're given all the information available, which includes the benefit of positional perspective.
Now, that's not to say that an offensive lineman should be smarter than a defensive back. It's just to suggest that if a defensive back scores poorly on the Wonderlic or doesn't do as well on the new PAT test, the ability to compare those results to other players at his position—past and present—would provide better perspective on how important that number really is in determining his NFL abilities as well as the brawn tests do.
Or not. Some people are just horrible test takers. Others are just dummies but might turn out to be great NFL players. Really, the tests are just tests, so why protect those results and not, say, the vertical leap?
Another benefit of releasing the results is to see how players react to the social media buzz around their scores. A bad test score could be the catalyst for immense mockery on Twitter. Seeing how players react to that outburst could provide a secondary examination for teams to assess a player's ability to handle that kind of scrutiny after a bad game.
For some players, how they handle scrutiny from fans and media is almost as important how they handle a double-team.
There have been reports for the last few weeks that Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o isn't concerned about his draft status dropping after news broke that his dead girlfriend wasn't real and he—and Notre Dame—covered up the truth for weeks leading up to the BCS National Championship Game.
Scandal aside, NFL teams and fans are left wondering if a player supremely talented on the field will be a good fit in an NFL environment if his personal judgment is so terrible. As I've written before, Te'o is either an incredibly shrewd deceiver, tricking most of America into thinking he had nothing to do with that elaborate hoax, or he is one of the most easily duped people on the planet.
As a fan whose team is interested in drafting Te'o, wouldn’t you want to know which it is? Maybe his results on the Wonderlic or the PAT could help in that assessment.
If the kid bombs the mental tests—both Wonderlic and PAT—isn't that information more important to fans than what his 40 time is? (Note: While it may make him a far less likable person, proving Te'o to be a shrewd fraudster rather than an easily duped romantic should excite fans about his ability to think quickly and problem-solve.)
The real point is we will undoubtedly find out Te'o's test results, be they good, bad or just average. Everyone's results will get out if someone deems them newsworthy, so why not just release them to the public, avoiding the nonsense of "sources" or rumors?
As a society, we care more about something when we don't think we're supposed to know it. Skeletons are always fascinating when they're hidden in someone's closet. When put on display in the front window, they're usually nothing more than a boring old pile of bones.
The NFL should stop hiding the results of its brain tests in the closet and put them on display with the results of its brawn tests. The results only matter this much because they're the one thing the league doesn't want us to see.
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