Towards the end of 2011 we learned that the Ravens would not host their training camp at McDaniel College beginning in 2012. We wondered if the decision was a temporary move by the team or would training camp anywhere outside of the team’s headquarters in Owings Mills permanently be a thing of the past.
Today it’s safe to say that those summer gatherings of 8-10,000 in Westminster are nothing more than sweet memories.
The Friday night intra-squad game, a Westminster tradition – gone!
When the club announced their intentions to give The Castle a try Ozzie Newsome shared this:
“In 1996, Westminster was the best place for us to have training camp. How teams conduct training camp today is vastly different. Our football needs and requirements are different. The absence of two-a-days, how much space we need for the players and the meetings, the limited number of practices allowed by the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), the importance of having an indoor field when the summer storms come – all of that and more football-influenced factors, had me recommend to Steve (Bisciotti) and Dick that we hold camp [at team headquarters].”
Fans, particularly those in Westminster pushed back. Businesses there grew dependent upon the new dollars that would rush in from late July through mid August and since 2012 they’ve had to adjust.
Cries of greed and lack of compassion towards the fans echoed on sports talk radio. But Ravens team President Dick Cass defended the decision:
“This is not a financial decision. Because of our training camp sponsors and partners, we did not lose money going to Westminster.”
Really folks, this was all about what management believed to be best for the team. As Ozzie Newsome pointed out the new CBA doesn’t afford the coaching staff the luxuries of two-a-day practices. Time on the field has been shortened significantly and in order to get the most out of the time allowed and keep up with competing teams, the Ravens really had no choice.
Simply put, team headquarters provide the technologies; efficiencies, state-of-the-art training and weight rooms and so many other amenities to help John Harbaugh and his staff get the most from training camp. No other college facility, not McDaniel, Stevenson, Towson, et al can provide the necessary creature comforts of One Winning Drive.
That’s just the way it is.
And now that the team won a Super Bowl after one training camp in Owings Mills, there is no turning back.
Yet despite the evidence that supports the decision, some fans remain bitterly disappointed.
“We completely understand that this takes away an important part of our connection with our fans. I regret that,” said team owner Steve Bisciotti after the 2011 announcement.
“Hopefully, we can find other ways to continue this outreach. We’ll have more to say on this as we develop these programs.”
Since then the team has featured full practices at three facilities (M&T Bank Stadium, Stevenson University and the Naval Academy) that are open to the public. They accommodate roughly 250 fans per practice at team headquarters – genuinely the capacity given the infrastructure surrounding the facility.
No it isn’t quite the same as those days at McDaniel. For the media, it’s not quite the same either as sightlines, access and communication are both limited when compared to the dog days in Westminster.
In some instances even the players liked it better at McDaniel, reveling in the glory of a loud ovation after a nice play that registers barely a few atta-boys at The Under Armour Performance Center.
Things are different now.
Old treasured traditions cast aside aren’t easily forgotten.
But like it or not this is the modern day NFL. Even the Philadelphia Eagles after 17 years at Lehigh University have opted out of the Bethlehem, PA campus and have joined 20 other teams who operate training camp from team headquarters.
That’s just the way it is.
And it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Photo by Sabina Moran