ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — If you go to YellowPages.com and type in “bars” near “St. Joseph, MO,” 36 different options pop up, or one every 1.24 square miles. If you do the same, only exchange “Kansas City, MO” for St. Joe, out comes a list of 303 different establishments, or one every 1.05 square miles.
It’s called reducing temptations, and if you’ve ever wondered why NFL teams, historically, have held preseason training camps in isolated, rural communities, away from the bright lights and 4G service, that’s pretty much it. Most pro coaches are the biggest control freaks in their zip code — unless, of course, they happen to share that zip code with Bill Snyder — and nothing reinforces control quite like keeping your young men isolated from the thing that they crave the most.
“Well, I’ve liked camp here,” Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt said Wednesday after his men broke camp at Missouri Western State and started packing up for home. “I mean, I like River Falls (Wis., the Chiefs’ former preseason home away from home). I think it’s important to kind of get away from family and reunite with the new family, which is the team, and get up here.
“It’s just close enough where on off days we can go back and see family. It’s important during training camp to take care of all your business, get rid of any vices that you have, be a team, and try to work on something special.”
The middle two parts of that equation are arguments A and B — and valid ones, too — for taking some or all of a preseason camp on the road. But many teams contend they can do the take-care-of-business and work-on-something-special bits just as well, or better, within the friendly confines of their respective backyards.
Like the spread and two-tight-end alignments, the trend toward Augusts at home is circulating throughout the league: At present, 19 of 32 NFL teams currently train in their own facility, up from 18 a year ago and 17 in 2010. The Chiefs are just one of 10 who currently head off to another college, even if only for a few weeks.
On one hand, familiar environs, cost control, the ability to simulate game-week on-site for longer stretches. On the other, team bonding, boot-camp-style isolation, and face time for some of the more remote corners of your fan base.
“I don’t think there’s any wrong or right to it,” Colquitt said. “I just think it’s one of those things where it’s whoever (is running) the program. It’s Andy (Reid’s call). If he wants it here, we’ll continue to be here. If he wants it at our complex, just for ease and stuff like that, I’m fine with that.
“It’s one of those things that a lot of players, especially younger guys, would say, ‘I’d rather be up here in St. Joe with less distractions and try to make this team.’ As opposed to being back in town where there (are) a lot of distractions, and you’re somewhere where you don’t need to be.”
But at some point, and some point soon, the coin-flipping is going to have to give way to decision-making. The Chiefs have to keep their training camp in Missouri through 2019, but their contract with Missouri Western State reverts to a year-to-year option starting in 2015.
“The trend is to move away,” said Kurt McGuffin, Missouri Western’s athletic director. “But if you put pencil to paper, they have a good situation here. The only work that they do is bring some equipment up here, and everything else is turn-key.
“I think it’s just a matter of, do you want to get your guys away and live in the residence halls and build camaraderie? Or do you want them to go to home to their own place and come to work every day? And that’s the question.”
At this point, he doesn’t know the answer; substantive talks with Reid, new general manager John Dorsey and president Mark Donovan won’t happen until after the season.
By all accounts, McGuffin and company have been fine hosts; from family-friendly balloon castles and cheerleaders to food carts and autograph lines, Chiefs camp at St. Joe has almost a state-fair kind of feel to it, with thousands of off-red-clad fans nestled onto the grassy knolls that surround the practice fields here, morning after morning. They tailgate in the parking lots. Little boys pull away from their parents to work on their spirals, trying to mimic quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel. In case of inclement weather, a swank, NFL-functional indoor facility rests atop a hill overlooking the fields.
More often than not, both backs get scratched. The Chiefs get trust-building exercises in a small town, away from vices, and a chance to personally engage with devoted locals. St. Joe, a community of roughly 76,000 that’s best known as the final resting spot of outlaw Jesse James, gets a little sugar: A recent report by the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press pegged the annual economic impact at almost $1.2 million over the three weeks of camp. Missouri Western benefits from a bump in revenue (a reported $75,000 to $100,000 per year), in foot traffic, and in face-time.
“You can’t put a price tag on the exposure that St. Joe and Missouri Western State University get … when you (go) away to that campus and that town is going to get mentioned quite a bit,” McGuffin said. “I can’t put a price tag on that. How many kids come to school here because of that, I don’t know. But I know the exposure is kind of cool.”
Missouri Western provides security, food, housing, housekeeping and athletic facilities. The Chiefs supplement security, bring their equipment and assist with maintenance of the practice fields. Reid is a take-your-camp-on-the-road guy, historically. While in Philly, his Eagles trained at Lehigh University, an hour north of the team complex. When he left town, the club moved back to their own digs.
“They’ve been phenomenal,” Reid said of Missouri Western. “The people here, I can’t say enough good things about them. From the guys who take care of the field — the fields are incredible — to the food, the food’s unbelievable. The people that take care of the rooms for the players — they clean, they make the beds, they do everything for ya. It’s quite a setup.
“And then with that, the players, I think, can focus on their job and then it eliminates some of the things that you get into with the distractions. So I think it starts with the university. What a great setup here.”
Mind you, recent history says that logistics and aesthetics, however strong, are largely superficial once the regular season gets underway. Over the past two years, NFL teams that hold preseason camps away from their regular facility had averaged 7.7 wins. Teams that kept everything in-house averaged 8.3.
If anything, there’s a slight edge toward the stay-at-home model: The 18 clubs that took that route last fall averaged 8.6 victories, while the clubs that didn’t — including the Chiefs, who laid a 2-14 egg — averaged 7.2. So much for bonding.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com