ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs broke training camp at Missouri Western State University on Wednesday. Whether they’ll be back next season is expected to be decided soon.
The contract between the Chiefs and the Division II school about an hour’s drive north of Kansas City expired this year. But not only are there a pair of mutual options, both sides have expressed interest in negotiating another deal to keep Missouri Western as the Chiefs’ summer home.
“I personally think we’ve had a great experience here in St. Joe, not only this year, but for the last seven or eight years that we’ve been here,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. “It is something that we will sit down and talk about as an organization, but personally I hope we’ll be able to come back.”
There was a time not long ago when most NFL teams took their training camp to small colleges, often in the north to escape the heat of July and August. The Chiefs trained at William Jewell, also just north of Kansas City, before taking their camp to River Falls in Wisconsin for many years.
They decided to camp closer to home in 2010, signing a five-year contract with Missouri Western and then tacking on three more years. In return, the school built lavish practice facilities that include a pair of manicured outdoor fields, plenty of seating for fans and an indoor facility rivaling the Chiefs’ own indoor facility across the parking lot from Arrowhead Stadium.
There also is an old-school benefit of taking training camp on the road: the camaraderie that comes with being sequestered in dormitories for a grueling three-week stretch every year.
“I know the trend has been to bring training camp back to their facility. Philosophically, I like going away,” said Hunt, whose father, Lamar, founded the franchise. “Maybe it’s because I grew up going up to William Jewell and watching the Chiefs train there.
“When you have that quality of a facility that’s an hour away from Kansas City — so it’s away but it’s easy to get back when the players and coaches have a day off — you have the best of both worlds.”
There are benefits to taking camp home, though.
The expense is considerable for loading up everything 90 players and numerous coaches and staff need for a three-week stay. And despite the investments Missouri Western has made in infrastructure, the Chiefs’ own training complex still provides better and more comprehensive facilities.
While it would be difficult to accommodate fans at their secluded practice fields in Kansas City, the Chiefs could hold a handful of workouts in Arrowhead Stadium that are open to the public. That would be more convenient for the majority of Chiefs fans who must make the trek up Interstate 29 at the crack of dawn if they want to see their team work out in the early morning hours.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has long favored taking camp on the road, heading to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., when he was with the Eagles. The year of his departure, in 2013, the organization followed the league-wide trend by bringing camp back to its own Philadelphia-area complex.
Even some of Reid’s players have come to embrace a few weeks in rather Spartan digs.
“It’s fun,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s always a special team.”
Missouri Western president Robert Vartabedian said about 250,000 people attend Chiefs camp in St. Joseph each year, providing a significant economic impact for the school and community.
That’s a big reason why Missouri Western often goes out of its way to accommodate the Chiefs.
“We’ll wait until the end of camp and sit down and talk to Dr. Vartabedian. We’ll go through all the things that went well and the things that we want to change, and we’ll figure out next year,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. “Our intention is to come back. It has been a great experience for us.”
Donovan said the Chiefs made a handful of requests before signing the latest three-year contract and the university “over-delivered” on those changes.
“Every single minute of camp is critical to us in football operations. These guys understand that,” said Donovan, who hopes to have a decision on next year in the coming weeks. “The little things behind the scenes that nobody sees and nobody knows about that may seem like the smallest thing, after a couple years of understanding how we work, the university understands that fully now. They jump right in and Dr. Vartabedian leads that team. They get it done and this is critical to us.”