I was in Minneapolis last week, and in a second-tier suburb saw the Minnesota Vikings’ practice facility. The thing is 277,000 square feet, like Mall of America with goalposts. Ball of America. There are four grass practice fields.
The new Carolina Panthers owner will build one of his very own, and it will be shiny and new and state of the art and impress prospective free agents. For the first time, the Vikings this season will hold their training camp at the practice facility, abandoning Mankato State.
Mankato is about 90 minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Spartanburg, where the Panthers train, is about 80 miles southwest of Charlotte.
The Panthers will abandon Spartanburg and hold training camp in Charlotte. Nobody has announced that, but nobody has to.
Training camp has evolved. It once was full of two-a-day practices and players trying to get into shape. If players aren’t in shape when they report now, everybody will know. Training camp is an opportunity to better learn the playbook, which newcomers have been looking at since they were signed or drafted.
I like Spartanburg. I always have. When training camp begins, there’s a neat coming together of town and team. The Panthers practice in Spartanburg because of Jerry Richardson. Until this season the owner of the team, he starred for the Wofford College Terriers in football. That’s his place, or one of them.
The team’s coaches and executives praise Spartanburg. They like the camaraderie that staying together theoretically imposes. The Panthers sleep in dorms, as do they. A player asked me if the media slept in dorm rooms. I pointed to the Marriott. We sleep there, I said. He was not pleased.
About camaraderie: Can’t you create the same quality by staying, say, in a Charlotte hotel? Can’t you thrive at a practice facility designed not to accommodate the Terriers, but to accommodate the Panthers?
Football coaches and players work hours that seem not to end. So why not simplify travel and enable them to stay in their town? Only five teams hold camp away from home.
To justify the cost of the new training facility, the Panthers will dress it up and attempt to turn it into the focal point of a mixed-use development.
Spartanburg will be crushed. Of course it will be crushed. The Panthers have practiced there since 1995. I think the town is interesting, as do others, as real-estate prices attest.
But at some point, practicing more than an hour away makes no sense. In related news, Rockingham no longer has a NASCAR Cup race (the track should have one); Louisville no longer has a Major League Baseball team; Waterloo, Iowa, no longer has an NBA team; and Decatur, Ill., Portsmouth, Ohio, and Cleveland no longer have the NFL. Yes, I know that Cleveland has a team. However.
Money and convenience supersede tradition. I don’t know when it will happen, but the Panthers will build and they will develop, and they will stay home.