Ravens extend pact with McDaniel through 2010

OWINGS MILLS – The tradition of Westminster acting as a summer stage for professional football was extended through 2010 after another accord was struck between the Baltimore Ravens and McDaniel College.

Among the reasons cited for forging a six-year contract extension officially announced Tuesday to keep training camp on the McDaniel campus: proximity to the team's training complex in Owings Mills, sharing the cost of the installation of artificial turf at Scott S. Bair Stadium along with the agreement including a feasibility study for potential room expansion at the team headquarters hotel that is owned and operated by the college.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti indicated weeks ago that he wanted to keep the team's training camps at the private, liberal arts school. A lifelong Maryland resident, Bisciotti used to attend the Baltimore Colts' camps that were held from 1953 to 1971 at the school formerly known as Western Maryland College.

"Going to McDaniel is special for me, and I believe for our fans," Bisciotti said. "It's a great place to have training camp. The college helps us give our players the right atmosphere for learning, and the access for fans is easy and pleasant.

"I came here as a kid watching the Colts practice. I have pictures of my brother and sister with a variety of players, including one of me wearing Johnny Unitas' helmet. I even remember what I ate and drank at camp: waffle ice cream sandwiches and lemonade."

Westminster Mayor Kevin Dayhoff quipped that waffle ice cream sandwiches and lemonade may become the official food and drink of the city. An estimated 66,000 fans attended last summer's training camp.

"It's the Statue of Liberty play for the Ravens, McDaniel and the city," Dayhoff said. "This is the kind of cooperation and teamwork that this deal exemplifies. I'm absolutely thrilled that the Ravens are here to stay."

A Division III school that competes in the Centennial Conference, McDaniel was founded in 1867.

"To have an NFL team's training camp right here in our county is outstanding," said Hampstead Mayor Haven Shoemaker, a Ravens personal-seat license holder. "I'm a frequent visitor at practice because it's eight miles from my house, and it would have been really disappointing if they had moved camp to Salisbury or Western Maryland.

"I'm confident that with Bisciotti's Maryland ties that he will want to keep camp here even after this particular extension because, like so many of us, he grew up as a Colts fan."

The Sportexe Momentum Turf is set to be installed at the college by June 15, according to Ravens director of operations Bob Eller, who negotiated the deal with McDaniel vice president of administration and finance Ethan Seidel. The study for possible expansion of the college-owned Best Western has begun.

"It's going to continue to be great for the college, the town and all of Carroll County," McDaniel President Joan Develin Coley said. "Knowing that we're going to have the Ravens with us for this long period of time allows us to plan for the future."

The Ravens first began holding training camp in Westminster in 1996 after Art Modell moved the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.

The turf installation was apparently cost-friendly because it was less expensive to install turf on a larger scale for the Ravens, including their downtown stadium last year and a new training complex in Owings Mills set to open in October.

"McDaniel makes sense because we have a history there and, logistically, it works out very well for the team," Eller said. "There's definitely a comfort level among the football people, business people and marketing people that it's the right place for the Ravens to train. It's an excellent situation for the football team, one of the best a team could ask for."

Eller has said that more than 100,000 fans attended training camp in 2001 the summer after the team won Super Bowl XXXV, attendance that sparked city economic impact estimates in excess of $1 million.

"We finally nailed down the loose ends," Seidel said. "These capital improvements have benefited both us and make sense because we are in a long-term relationship. We've had a lot of years to work out the kinks.

"The Ravens would like a little more room at the hotel. With the growth of trying to recruit industry into the county, executives will need a place to stay. The timing seems right, so we'll look at it."

Seidel said that the college would have been unlikely to install turf, or entertain expansion of their hotel without the Ravens making those requests in negotiations.

Players are scheduled to report to camp on July 29 with the first practice the next morning at 8:45 a.m. A full-contact scrimmage is set for the night of Aug. 6 in the college's stadium. It will be preceded by a question-and-answer session with Ravens coach Brian Billick along with appearances by the Ravens' cheerleaders and marching band.

The team won't hold its annual mock game the morning after the scrimmage at M&T Bank Stadium as it has done in the past. The team is tentatively scheduled to break camp on Aug. 24.

"This is a perfect location for us because it is a camp mentality and we do feel special up there," Billick said. "More and more clubs are going back to their facilities for training camp, and I will always advocate that we keep this relationship for as long as we can.

"I let the veterans go home for most of the camp because the proximity allows us to do that. You're always going to sleep better at home in your own bed."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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