This Year's Training Camp Could Be the Jets' Last at SUNY-Cortland; The Decline of the Old-School NFL Preseason
By MIKE SIELSKI
The Jets' Thursday practice was their final one at SUNY-Cortland for this year's training camp. It was a light workout designed mostly to keep their players' conditioning up. It may also have been the team's last practice at SUNY-Cortland, period.
After the Jets hired Rex Ryan as their coach in 2009, he wanted to have the team travel to a relatively remote location for training camp. That led to the franchise's agreement with SUNY-Cortland—a seven-year contract with an out clause based on the coach's desire to continue using the campus.
The Jets have since held training camp at SUNY-Cortland, located 200 miles north of their headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., four times in the last five years. Because of the 2011 NFL lockout, the team held that year's camp in Florham Park.
The Jets have held training camp at SUNY-Cortland four times in the last five years. They are one of only 13 NFL teams that held an off-site camp this year.
But with Ryan's long-term future with the Jets now in doubt, it is natural to wonder whether the team will return to SUNY-Cortland in 2014 and beyond. The Jets can invoke that out clause anytime after the regular season ends, said Erik Bitterbaum, SUNY-Cortland's president, and the parties have made no decision yet about next season.
"If a new head coach did not want to return," Bitterbaum said, "they would give him the flexibility."
A Jets spokesman said, "Our position it's that is something that we'll take a look at once the season is over." He declined to comment further.
Bitterbaum makes no bones about the benefits of having the Jets and their fans flock to his school and the town of 19,000 residents that surrounds the campus. He said that last year's training camp, when Tim Tebow made the Jets particularly intriguing, drew 36,000 people and $5.5 million worth of revenue to Cortland and its local businesses.
For 1,200 open spots in this year's freshman class at SUNY-Cortland, the school received more than 12,000 applications—a surge that Bitterbaum credited to the visibility that the Jets' presence provides.
"We really do believe, because the Jets share it with us, that things have gone well," he said. "I think they'll be here for years, unless they lose. Then they might get rid of the head coach."
SUNY-Cortland's space and facilities—which include the university's 6,500-seat football stadium—allow the Jets to accommodate more fans who want to attend training camp than the Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park would. And as a matter of routine, Ryan has lauded the experience of holding camp in Cortland every year that the Jets have been there.
"No. 1, you start with the people around Cortland have opened their arms to us. They're absolutely terrific," Ryan said on the first day of this year's camp. "And then you look at the facilities. The practice field, this here is as nice as any golf course."
The Jets are one of a shrinking number of NFL teams who still travel significant distances to hold their training camps. Thanks to the proliferation of multimillion-dollar practice facilities, just 13 of the league's 32 teams held off-site training camps this year, down from 26 in 2000.
To Ryan, there is value in having his players so far removed from home, where there can be off-the-field distractions, and in having them bunk with each other for three weeks in the university's dorm rooms. The isolation and spartan conditions, the coach believes, build camaraderie among teammates, and many of his players share that belief.
"We don't have a choice. We're hanging out with each other. I think that's a good thing," tight end Konrad Reuland said. "Any time you can strengthen the bonds between teammates like that, it makes you want to fight for the guy next to you that much more—actually knowing the guy, having spent time with him."
Reuland, though, is just 26. It wasn't long ago that he was going through a similar living experience at Stanford.
Linebacker Calvin Pace is 32 and about to begin his 11th NFL season. He spent this year's camp sharing a room with fellow linebacker David Harris, and for Pace, whatever novelty that once accompanied reliving his college days has long disappeared.
"We're adults," Pace said. "Living in the dorms, the littlest stuff kind of sets you off. Nothing personal. Little stuff, like my roommate using up all the toilet paper."
Hope so. They have a state-of-the-art facility in Florham Park with nearby hotels.
Not sure why they would attribute a rise in application to the Jets. I think the economy has more to do with that than anything. Kids/parents are wising up. States schools offer a good education at a better rate.
Might as well just put the facilities in Florham Park to use. I don't get why they don't.
With as limited as the practice time is already, teams can not risk losing a day of practice due to weather anymore. Without an indoor facility I think the risk is too high. Plus, the medical and rehab facilities are much better at Florham Park. The whole team bonding experience is way over rated IMO. Plus I only live 12 miles away from the Florham Park facility..