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NFL labor dispute upends training camp plans

The National Football League labor dispute has threatened to cancel training camps at several universities across the country, including Minnesota State Mankato.

By Armando Montaño, Chronicle of Higher Education reporter [published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, New York, N.Y., 7/15/2011]

When the New York Jets held their training camp last year at the State University of New York at Cortland, the event drew 40,000 visitors as well as $5.8-million to the local economy.

Two weeks from now, a handful of colleges are scheduled to host training camps for National Football League teams—events that bring in free publicity and millions of dollars to the local economy. But a months-long labor dispute, which has left professional football's 2011-12 season in question, has led several teams to cancel their visits to colleges this summer and caused other colleges to worry that they may lose out this year as well.

Already the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Giants, and the New York Jets have canceled their arrangements with McDaniel College, the State University of New York at Albany, and the State University of New York at Cortland, respectively.

Assuming NFL owners don't continue to lock out the players—a resolution appears to be imminent, according to news reports—those three teams plan to hold their practice camps at their home sites.

For the Jets, that means training in their facility in Florham Park, N.J. For SUNY-Cortland, it could mean the loss of some 40,000 visitors as well as $5.8-million to the local area, which the training camp generated last summer. In addition, dozens of SUNY-Cortland students typically intern with the football team during the camp; they won't get to do that this year. The university has a four-year agreement with the team and expects to have the Jets back the next two summers.

The publicity from hosting a training camp outweighs the monetary value, say college officials. Many of the 13 institutions that have teams and their fans show up on their campuses every summer say they break even financially, but don't do it for the money.

"The fact that they know the campus, and how to get here, it'll prompt some parents to come bring their kids to visit when they're in high school," said Michael Cooper, director of media relations at Minnesota State University in Mankato, which holds the Minnesota Vikings' training camp. "The admissions office hears that the families first experience the campus when they come to the training camp."

Mankato officials expect to hear on Monday whether the team plans to practice there or at its home field, in Minneapolis.

Even if a deal is struck, some colleges worry that the camps could get pushed back, affecting the start of fall semester. Training camps typically open during the last week of July, and run for three weeks. Students often return to the campus within a week of the close of the camps.

At Georgetown College, in Kentucky, where the Cincinnati Bengals have trained for the past 15 years, students start arriving on August 22. If camps open later than usual, it could be problematic for the college to hold the camp and welcome students, said Todd Gambill, the college's dean of student affairs.

To help ease uncertainty and offset the cost of preparations, the Bengals paid the college to ready the facilities as if everything was running to schedule.

Mr. Gambill appreciates the Bengals' gesture, but like other colleges whose camps are still in limbo, he knows the final decision is out of his hands. "We're at the mercy of the labor dispute," he said, "and hopefully it'll get resolved soon."

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