The annual trip to training camp for the Dallas Cowboys is, like so much about the team, just more than it is with other teams. More travel. More spectacle. More expense. More attention.
In a time when more and more NFL teams are conducting the entire preseason at the main team facility, you have to wonder if Jerry Jones is going to keep this up.
A decision will have to be made before the next preseason, because the current contract is up this year.
The Dallas Cowboys are in their third and final year of their contract to hold training camp practices in Oxnard, Calif., but the club also has a three-year option it can exercise to return to the West Coast.
The three-year option is "at the Cowboys' sole discretion," according to the the contract, and could keep the club's training camp practices in Oxnard through 2017.
Not only does the extra expense, travel, and overall effort have to be considered, but the Cowboys are getting a new team headquarters in Frisco to replace the current Valley Ranch complex. The new complex will also be used for high school football games and other events, but make no mistake, the main reason it is being built is to provide a 12,000 seat indoor stadium for practices, plus two outdoor fields for the team to work out on. With all that, is it really logical to keep packing up all that equipment and hauling it out to the Pacific Coast each year?
All those other NFL teams are making the decision that holding training camp at a separate location is not worth it, and make no mistake: Whatever reason the teams may give, it is really about cost. Although no one made the trek the Cowboys have routinely done since Tom Landry starting taking them to Thousand Oaks to escape the torrid Texas summers, they still had a lot of money tied up in the move. And NFL owners loathe unnecessary expense. Whether it is for extending the goal posts a few feet, setting up some more cameras to make replay work better, or paying cheerleaders a living wage, you are going to be hard pressed to find a penny the average NFL owner cannot pinch in half. The savings for the Cowboys may well run into the millions by the time you account for all that has to happen to get the team to Oxnard and then house and feed them.
With a typically magnificent new facility right in the Dallas area, why would the team choose to continue the yearly migration?
Well, there is that heat thing. Barry Church put it about as well as I have seen.
"It would be similar to the Mojave Desert,'' Church said. "I mean, it's pretty bad out there. You can barely breathe.
"I think it's pretty bad for our health if we practice out there, so I'm glad we practice out here where we have a nice breeze and got the ocean right over there. It feels good.''
Even with the indoor facility in Frisco, the team could not do everything it needs out of the weather. With 90 players to evaluate and train, there are times you need two fields to work on. Hence the outdoor fields in Frisco. After the cutdowns are made, the team can get more done all on one field, but there are still times it is useful to work on two.
But this is not all about simple economics. The annual trips to California (and the ones to San Antonio a few years ago) have other, harder to measure benefits. Dallas is known for, well, being America's Team, and at least some of that is attributed to the satellite fan base that those training camps created. There is no doubt that the communities that host the camps are all in favor of having the Cowboys in town for however long they can get them (although hopefully they will not do the three city shuffle that the team suffered through a few years back when Jerry Jones tried to get a little too much of a good thing going).
And no one does camp like the Cowboys. Cheerleaders. Autograph events with the military. Eager crowds. Dallas may not have the biggest crowds, but they are consistent. Other teams see big turnouts when they have coaching changes or some hot new player on board (I would not recommend trying to get into a Cleveland Browns practice this summer). The Cowboys see a constantly good turnout.
More than all that, there is something to be said for doing it just to set the team apart from the rest of the league. As Church indicated, the players seem to like the location (it is a nicer ocean view that the one you get from North Texas). There is a kind of festive atmosphere that surrounds it. While the players are more than ready to pack up and go home by the end, I think they still appreciate that this is something different. Unique. Something Cowboys.
I don't have any say in the matter, but frankly, I wish the team would keep three or so weeks of camp in Oxnard. They can come to Frisco for the remainder, and I'm sure they will get some huge crowds in that indoor stadium, but if the California camps go away, something will be lost. I don't think it truly matters as far as wins and losses, so it really is about cost versus tradition.
Of course, I like traditions. I am an Aggie. Many may not agree at all. What do you think? Give us your opinion in the poll below.