Generally the Bills training camp schedule release is met with excitement and anticipation, particularly from Bills fans living in the Rochester area who suddenly have immediate access to their favorite team at St. John Fisher College. This year however, the Bills big reveal was met with a much different feeling here in Rochester – one of concern. Concern that the franchise may be phasing out the idea of an outsourced training camp.
As most are well aware by now the Bills open their 2017 training camp on July 27 with a late afternoon 5:30 practice – the only one of it’s kind at Fisher this summer. That’s right, no more fan favorite night practices and even more suspicious is that the only other late evening practice will take place at New Era Field on August 4th. The other 12 practices that fill in the schedule will take place on Fisher’s campus, nine of them featuring an earlier than usual 8:45 a.m. start time, but the 14 total practices for camp is down from 17 sessions in 2015 and 16 in 2016.
The other thing people are noticing is that camp wraps up on August 15th, a week earlier than 2016, however when you consider that camp got started on July 30th last year versus July 27th this year, it’s really only a few days shorter than what fans are used to.
Truthfully, it’s the number of sessions taking place in Rochester, 13, and the fact that the franchise is experimenting with practices out at One Bills Dr. that should be most worrisome for fans who enjoy the accessibility of training camp taking place in Rochester.
The fact that every year more and more teams are choosing to stay home over a satellite training camp is a concern as well.
Including the Bills, only nine teams held their training camps at nearby colleges or universities in 2016. The Colts, Chiefs and Steelers all share that practice with the Bills in the AFC, while the Panthers, Rams and three of the four NFC North teams do the same in the NFC. Three more franchises, the Raiders, Cowboys and Saints also held their training camps away from their home facilities in 2016, but not on college campuses. And of those three, New Orleans announced earlier this year that they’ll be staying at their Metairie Practice Facility for camp in 2017.
Fresh off a move to Los Angeles the Chargers will hold their training camp at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex this summer, which isn’t technically their home base. However, that could be a temporary stop, much like the Stubhub Center is a temporary home for games while they await construction of the $2.6 billion Hollywood Park stadium they’ll share with the Rams. Same goes for the Raiders, who are in limbo awaiting a move to Las Vegas in a few years.
So while 11-12 teams, slightly over one-third of the league, continue to take their training camp on the road, that number is dropping every year.
As recently as 2015 the Jets abandoned SUNY Cortland as their training camp home. Now they kick it at their Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, NJ.
Perhaps the once popular practice of NFL team’s holding training camp on the road in the hopes of marketing to pockets of fans outside their primary area of operation has lost it’s luster. Perhaps fans just aren’t as interested in watching practice as they once were. Whatever the case may be, it’s impossible to deny that the concept is on a slippery slope to extinction. And even though Buffalo agreed to a five-year extension with St. John Fisher College last season that will keep the camp in Rochester through at least 2021, the writing is on the wall.
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