Flagstaff camp would be sorely missed

March 1, 2013

Bruce Yeung/Yeung Photography

The Cardinals have trained in the cool climes of Flagstaff since 1988.

Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers was supposed to highlight the city’s economic plan and the future of the Phoenix Coyotes at Thursday’s State of the City event. Instead, Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill stole the show when he announced the team is close to an agreement to move training camp to Glendale.

Cardinals training camp has been held in Flagstaff every year since the team’s arrival in Arizona in 1988 and is one of the few established franchise traditions. But last season was the last year of the team’s contract with Northern Arizona University.

Fan turnout at NAU has grown over the past few seasons – ever since the club’s run to the Super Bowl — and Flagstaff offers fans and yes, media members, a chance to escape the Valley’s August heat for a few weeks in a picturesque mountain setting. Beaver Street Brewery, Snowbowl hikes and late nights in Old Town are familiar to most Cards fans.

It would be a shame to lose those traditions.

That said, the Cardinals have some very real concerns with the facilities at Flagstaff. Maybe that sounds like whining to you, but if you took a tour of other clubs’ training camps you might have a better understanding. The Cards got a first-hand look at Kansas City’s facilities at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., last season while training there in between games. Both the amenities and the eagerness of the staff to meet all the Cards’ needs wowed the team.

In the past, there have been problems with NAU’s Walkup Skydome being closed to fans and families for renovation and the players being bumped out of their dorms and into hotels because school was supposedly starting, only to have the dorms remain empty.

This year, the Cardinals were unhappy with the Skydome facilities for their athletic training and equipment operations, as well as the locker-room facilities. Team officials felt they were insufficient for an NFL franchise with a training camp roster of 90 players.
Bidwill said a move to Glendale would allow more accessibility to the team than Flagstaff, which is a two to two-and-half hour drive from the Valley. The club would practice at University of Phoenix Stadium rather than outdoors, a must given the 100-plus-degree temperatures in August in the Valley. Weiers told the Arizona Republic that the Cards would use giant balloon tents like those used by ASU for its Glendale camp. When the team held a mini-camp practice there last June, about 15,000 fans showed up, opening the Cardinals’ eyes to the possibilities in Glendale.
It is not unprecedented for NFL teams to stay home for training camp. While most teams left town about a decade ago, almost two-thirds of the league’s teams chose to stay home last season for a variety of financial and practical reasons. There’s also the fact that the collective bargaining agreement allows for less practice time, so the need for multiple fields and more time slots isn’t as great as it was.
Finally, this move will be met with widespread satisfaction by the players, who never liked sleeping in noisy, stuffy dorm rooms, despite importing many of the comforts of home.

Bidwill stressed that the deal is not done yet, but it is clear that this is far more than a negotiating ploy with Flagstaff. If it comes to fruition, a tradition will be lost, as will significant revenue for Flagstaff’s area businesses, and the exposure the area receives from national media, who consider it one of the top training camp sites in the NFL.

— Craig Morgan