Combine hard on NFL prospects

Researchers told it's invasive, degrading

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Many fans like the NFL because its teams do not guarantee contracts, ensuring that their favorite teams are not burdened by paying players who underperform the expectations harbored by a team and its fans when the deal was signed.

Dufur, who said she plays fantasy football, acknowledged the disgust generated by guaranteed contracts in baseball and basketball. But she said the combine requires job applicants to undergo invasive procedures never experienced by most American job applicants.

"This is a labor market where the labor entry points are so restricted that the owner can require these things of you before they ever hire you," she said. "You and I are likely in jobs where once you're hired, the owners can require some things of you, such as making you work a number of years before your retirement vests. In a league like this, they can demand things of you, medical exams, the intelligence tests, and never pay you a dime."

The market is so restricted that players don't resist the NFL's requirements at all, despite expressing anger and anguish over having a single chance to run the 40-yard dash or being forced to submit to exams by different doctors for each team because the teams don't trust each other.

"It feels bad, but there's nothing you can do about it," one player said. "This is your dream."

Indeed, players don't resist because NFL jobs are precious. Only about 300 of 50,000 NCAA football players in a given year are invited to the combine.

There, each is assigned a position and a number. The first running back in the alphabet becomes known as "RB1" instead of by name. A scout told the researchers that a team hired a former U.S. Secret Service agent to obtain the juvenile records of 100 players, a potential violation of state laws.

The overall result is a mass meeting between management and potential new laborers that, Dufur said, "socializes these players into who's the boss. The message is that you're a cog in the machine."

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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