Notre Dame Stadium. Joe Paterno. Yes, college football is unmatched in its reverence for relics, long past the point of utility. There is perhaps no better illustration of such strange allegiance than the relatively useless 40-yard dash.
While there is probably some merit to how quickly a college football player can sprint straight ahead for 40 yards without pads on, well, there isn't much. There are, at any given time, about 10 people on a football field who can reasonably expect to sprint 40 yards in a straight line during the course of the game. All 22, however, can be damned sure that their 5- and 10-yard quickness will be vitally important on every snap. A tenth of a second in those first few yards is a metric fuckload more important than a tenth of a second between yards 30 and 40.
The S&C community, of course, is fully aware that the 40 doesn't mean much. So why is it the most recognized combine test?
The answer, of course, is that everyone's intimately familiar with the test. We know that anything over 4.9 is sloowwww, and everything below 4.4 is fasttttt (five t's fast, to be precise). Most football fans and about 95% of the coaching community know that it's not the end-all, be-all of tests. And sometimes, if you're really lucky, one of those 5% joins your conference.