A year ago, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan wanted an isolated spot for summer training camp so his players could avoid the glare of the metropolitan New York spotlight and learn more about themselves.
The team found that spot in upstate New York at SUNY Cortland, and they're staying put for now. The Jets announced Monday that they had reached an agreement with the university that will keep the bulk of training camp on campus for at least the next three years, through Ryan's current contract with the team.
"What we're doing is building a team," Jets owner Woody Johnson said. "The real benefit is the guys sticking together and going out for dinner together, that sort of thing. That's really what sustains you during this long season. Sixteen weeks is a long, long season."
The three-year agreement with SUNY Cortland, 30 miles south of Syracuse, contains an option to extend to five years. New York state is contributing $320,000 in grants to create a second grass practice field and upgrade facilities. The grant total could reach $575,000 if the team commits to the two-year option.
"We hope even beyond that the Jets will make Cortland their permanent training camp," said New York Gov. David Paterson, a longtime fan of the team.
The Jets trained for 40 years at Hofstra University on Long Island before moving to Florham Park, N.J., after camp two years ago. Last year, in addition to training in Cortland, they conducted minicamp practices open to the public at their center in Florham Park and did some public sessions at Hofstra. Johnson said the team would do the same this summer.
The Jets' decision maintains upstate New York's hold on at least two NFL camps. The Buffalo Bills have made St. John Fisher College in Rochester their summer home since 2000 and the New York Giants trained in Albany, though there's no word on whether they will return this summer.
A state study showed that hosting camp paid dividends to the city of Cortland. More than 34,000 spectators visited the Cortland Stadium Complex where the Jets trained during the team's three-week stay last summer, providing an economic impact estimated at $4.2 million.
State officials said they expect attendance to more than double this summer, to anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000. Camp opens in Cortland on Aug. 2.
"That was extraordinary," SUNY Cortland president Erik J. Bitterbaum said. "The sense of pride was unbounded in this community."
Ryan's idea of improving team camaraderie certainly seemed to pay off for the team, too. The Jets started 3-0 last season, beat Indianapolis 29-15 in December to halt the Colts' NFL-record 23-game winning streak, and came within one victory of reaching the Super Bowl.
The Jets (11-8) failed to hold a 17-6 first-half lead against Indianapolis, losing 30-17 in their first appearance in the AFC Championship in 11 years.
"You could just feel the way that the team was coming together, and it went through the whole year," Johnson said. "The trends that started here at Cortland continue. Those kinds of traditions are very important. The magic of a team came together."