Sunday, August 17, 2008

New York Giants May Be At UAlbany For Long Haul

Mara says team could train in Albany after '09

When the Giants return to the University at Albany next summer, the trip may not be the farewell tour many once expected.

Though the team is building a state-of-the-art training facility at The Meadowlands and even though the contract between the Giants and UAlbany expires after next summer, the Giants now appear to be leaning toward a future in Albany.

Giants president John Mara said after a practice earlier this week, "There's a pretty good chance that we could come back here after 2009."

Mara added that internal discussions about the camp's future have yet to take place. But as the Giants held their final practice of camp Saturday, officials with both the school and the team cautioned against assuming the 13-year relationship will end next August.

Instead of abandoning the concept of training camp in Albany altogether, the Giants instead may change the model. For instance, the team could spend two weeks in Albany at the beginning of camp before moving operations to the new facility being built in East Rutherford, N.J.

"That's an idea," Mara said. "We haven't really discussed it yet. There are just a lot of positives to coming up here that we might not want to give up."

The camp's 2008 version proved one of the most successful. The Giants, on the heels of a Super Bowl title, drew 43,760 fans, the second-highest total at UAlbany. This marked just the third time more than 40,000 people came through campus.

"It is definitely nice to see that," Mara said. "We've got a great reception from people up here, and believe me, we've noticed."

The Giants' interest extends well beyond fan support. UAlbany offers five practice fields near Western Avenue, locker-room facilities inside SEFCU Arena and a support staff.

Though the team will have four practice fields at its new facility, it might be worthwhile to save the wear and tear on those fields for the regular season, Mara said, and instead beat up UAlbany's fields in the summer.

Moving camp to The Meadowlands also would force the Giants to contract with a hotel to house players. Here, UAlbany provides dormitories.

A camp away from the New York City area also curbs distractions. Keeping players bunked in dormitories on Freedom Quad fosters bonding and focus, players said.

"It gets you into the mind-set of being at training camp," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "It's 24 hours of football. You're so busy that distractions are at a minimum already."

Mara said he expects to reach a decision on the future site of camp before next summer. But history shows he need not rush the decision. When the Giants first came to Albany in 1996, they made the announcement in March -- just four months before the start of camp.

Two weeks ago, Mara met with UAlbany athletics director Lee McElroy and interim president George Philip to discuss the more immediate future. At that time, Mara told school officials the Giants planned to return for next summer; the Giants could have terminated the contract at the conclusion of this camp.

Both sides said discussions about long-term plans and another contract may take place as soon as this fall.
"We don't know where we're going after 2009," McElroy said. "I don't have a sense that they have any particular model in mind. Do they want to do the four-week model or do they want to shorten it? We haven't gotten to that stage of the discussion yet."

By PETE IORIZZO, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, August 17, 2008

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