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Ravens won't return to Westminster for training camp

Calling it a "difficult" decision that admittedly "takes away an important part of our connection with our fans," Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and the team announced Friday, Dec. 2, that the Ravens will not return to McDaniel College in Westminster for its 2012 training camp, but instead will hold camp at the team's Owings Mills facility.

"We've had long, serious discussions about this decision," said team president Dick Cass in a statement, "and, when all is said and done, we believe we can better prepare for the season by holding training camp here as opposed to McDaniel College or any other facility away from here.

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"We wanted to let the officials at McDaniel and at the hotel (Best Western) know as soon as we made the decision," he said.

"This is not a financial decision," Cass continued. "Because of our training camp sponsors and partners, we did not lose money going to Westminster."

The Ravens have held training camp at McDaniel for the first 15 years in the franchise's history.

The Ravens' 2011 training camp was held in Owings Mills after an NFL work stoppage made for a shorter-than-usual training camp schedule.

On the McDaniel College website on Friday, the school posted a statement on the Ravens' decision:

"The Baltimore Ravens notified McDaniel today of their decision to hold their summer training camp at their facilty in Owings Mills," the statement said.

"We've had a wonderful association with the Ravens at McDaniel, and appreciate their commitment to the college and to Westminster," McDaniel said in the statement. "We respect the decision of the Ravens organization, and are ready to welcome them back to McDaniel College if, and when, they decide to return their training camp here."

"We just found out this afternoon," said Cheryl Knauer, director of Media Relations at McDaniel. "We really didn't know until today. Even earlier this week, … we were still expecting them to be there this summer. We didn't know anything until this afternoon.

"I know this was a decision that they made to have closed training camp at their facility, but again, we would welcome them back here at McDaniel," Knauer said.

In Friday's statement from the Ravens, head coach John Harbaugh said of the decision, "We'll miss having all those fans at practice. It was fun having them so close and, at times, pushing the team to higher levels with the way they cheered and encouraged us."

"In 1996, Westminster was the best place for us to have training camp," said general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome in the statement. "How teams conduct training camp today is vastly different."

Bisciotti said he had mixed feelings about the move to Owings Mills.

"From a football and team point of view, it's an easy decision. Personally, this is difficult," he said.

"Some of my best memories as a kid are my family's visits to the Colts' training camp in Westminster," Bisciotti said. "Part of my devotion to the game and the players who made it great and are heroes to many of us, started on those visits."

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"We completely understand that this takes away an important part of our connection with our fans. I regret that," he said. "Hopefully, we can find other ways to continue this outreach."

Cass said the team wants to maintain some connection to Westminster — though that has not yet been defined.

"We want to do something in Westminster," Cass said, "and we are discussing some ideas. These will all have to fit into the first priority: getting the team ready for the regular season."

"We've discussed a variety of possible community interactions," Cass said. "We are committed to having, at the minimum, three practices away from Owings Mills that would be open to the public with at least one of those at M&T Bank Stadium. We will have smaller groups of fans at practices here (at Owings Mills) and will have other community activities that include access to players and coaches.

The team cited several issues that provoked the Ravens' decision.

• The team said facilities at Owings Mills facility are conducive to the best practices, especially in bad weather when the team can move inside without losing practice time. The team's weight room, conditioning machines and medical/training areas are significantly better, officials said.

• Officials also said the Ravens have outgrown the Best Western Hotel. "There aren't enough rooms for our players, coaches and staff. Nor are there rooms for the individual position meetings that are an everyday part of football preparation," Cass said. The team said it has had to add trailers to hold position meetings and use as office space for the staff.

• Technology requirements, including computer and video, have changed in recent years, and the capacity at the hotel is not compatible with team needs.

• The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement limits teams to one practice per day, and the efficiency provided in Owings Mills with meeting space, fields and video and IT operations allows the team to maximize the preparation for the season.

"Our football needs and requirements are different (than in 1996)," Newsome said. "The absence of two-a-days, how much space we need for the players and the meetings, the limited number of practices allowed by the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), the importance of having an indoor field when the summer storms come — all of that and more football-influenced factors, had me recommend to (Bisciotti and Cass) that we hold camp here."

"We owe much thanks to the leadership at McDaniel for their patience as we came to this decision and for all the outstanding help they have given the Ravens through the years," said Cass. "They have been a great partner, often going out of their way to make sure we could prepare our team at a high, high level."

Before becoming McDaniel College, the school was known as Western Maryland College and hosted the then-Baltimore Colts for training camp from 1953 through 1971.

The Colts has also trained at the Colorado School of Mines in 1972, at Towson State University in 1973, at McDonogh School in 1974 and then at Goucher College from 1975 to 1983, according to Ravens officials.

Reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this story.

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