The decision last week by the Baltimore Ravens to move their summer training camp from Westminster's McDaniel College to the team facility in Owings Mills came down to hearts and minds.
To thousands of football fans in the Baltimore area whose hearts belong to the football team, the Ravens were presented with an easy choice.
Since coming to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996, the Ravens conducted training camp at McDaniel every summer until this past one, when the club remained at its Owings Mills base due to a late resolution to the lockout. It seemed logical that the Ravens would return in 2012, because you don't break with tradition.
But tradition isn't what it used to be, especially in sports, and the world is light-years removed from 1996.
The Ravens' brass used their heads when finalizing last week's decision to move training camp to their spacious and comfortable Owings Mills complex. Sad as it may be to Carroll and Westminster, the decision makes sense on many levels.
The Ravens won't have to deal with the hassle of uprooting much of the operation and relocating in Westminster. The club has everything it needs at Owings Mills, including an indoor facility that can be used during inevitable summer storms. The Ravens don't need to spend any extra time moving from Owings Mills to McDaniel.
Second, the training camp schedule has changed. The owners forced the lockout last spring on an NFL Players' Association that wasn't seeking any changes to the game. Given the opportunity to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, the players pushed for fewer practices and got their wish.
Under the new agreement, teams can only hold one practice per day during training camp. As a result, the two-a-day practice regimen at McDaniel was already history. It doesn't make sense for the Ravens to move to Westminster for four weeks, when the number of practices was cut in half.
And, for a team that is closing in on a fourth straight playoff appearance and yearns mightily for a return to the Super Bowl, players and coaches will be able to minimize distractions at Owings Mills. The preparation for that journey begins in earnest during the team's four-week training camp.
The Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 because the city and state promised to build the franchise a stadium, not because the Modell family possessed a love of this area and its citizenry.
That move proved one thing conclusively: The NFL is big business.
Actually, it's not big business — it's enormous business — and a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality seems to exist throughout the league. For the Ravens, that mentality is magnified even more in a city with a faltering Major League Baseball franchise and no NBA or NHL teams.
The Owings Mills facility, located in a wooded residential area with two-lane roads, is closed to the public. That setting affords the team the opportunity it needs to be fully focused in July and August toward the goal of playing in January and February.
The Ravens aren't exactly abandoning their fan base. In the middle of the 2011 Owings Mills camp, the team held an open practice before more than 20,000 fans at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens should build on this idea and hold three practices at the stadium in 2012, either on a Friday night or Saturday so that families can attend. That will give fans ample opportunity to see the Ravens.
While we're on the subject, the Ravens shouldn't invite sponsors, politicians and corporate leaders to the Owings Mills practice facility. If the general public isn't allowed to watch the Ravens during training camp, they shouldn't be able to see the team either.
Let them come to the open M&T practices, like everyone else.
While the Ravens' decision to train in Owings Mills affects many football fans from around central Maryland, the effects of the move will directly hit the Westminster community. Thousands of fans attended the McDaniel camp on an annual basis, giving the college a major publicity boost not only in this area, but across the nation.
Many of the training camp visitors patronized Westminster-area businesses while they were here. When the team trained at its home base last summer, the county lost an estimated $2 million in revenue. The financial hit will probably be the same or even greater in future years.
The financial windfall generated by the Ravens' training camp was somewhat easy money. The doors to training camp opened, and the cash flowed to bars, restaurants, sports stores and other area establishments.
To replace the lost revenue, our elected officials and the county's economic development arm need to redouble efforts to recruit and attract permanent, taxpaying businesses — and the employment opportunities that come with those firms — to the county.
Employees of those new businesses will patronize bars and restaurants, too, and will represent real and sustainable economic growth, not the temporary enrichment that a month-long training camp brought to the county.
There's no doubt that losing the Ravens' training camp was a blow to Westminster and Carroll County.
But the Ravens didn't suddenly pick up and move a thousand miles away, as happened with the once-beloved Baltimore Colts in 1984. This area was fortunate to get another pro football team, and lucky to get one that currently has strong ownership, one of the game's top front offices and players and a coaching staff that are always prepared and annually in the hunt for an NFL championship.
Even if they are not at McDaniel every summer, the Ravens will still belong to Baltimore — and to Carroll County — for a very long time, and that should be enough.
Steve Jones write from Sykesville.
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