The Buffalo Bills decision to go camping in Orchard Park rather than at St. John Fisher College was disappointing, but hardly surprising. The writing has been on the wall for several years, as more and more NFL teams opt to stay home rather than take their training camps on the road. The complexities surrounding the league’s COVID-19 protocols only expedited matters. Bills General Manager Brandon Beane left open the possibility of the team returning to suburban Rochester next summer, but those odds seem remote.
Owners Terry and Kim Pegula have poured millions of dollars into upgrading the team’s facilities, so why go through all the hassle and expense of loading up several 18-wheelers for three weeks in Pittsford?
When former team president Russ Brandon made the decision to relocate training camp from Fredonia to Rochester in 2000, it made perfect sense — and cents. The team needed to market itself more aggressively in its second-largest market. But times change, and it’s doubtful the presence of camp here will lead to additional ticket sales and advertising dollars.
It’s been a wonderful relationship, with the Bills and Fisher both benefitting enormously. The team achieved its goal of regionalization, while the college’s affiliation with an NFL franchise resulted in immensely improved facilities that became the envy of Division III. Fisher’s football program wound up becoming the Upstate New York standard-bearer and the school saw a spike in overall student enrollment.
Brandon’s efforts to regionalize the franchise here and in Canada played an important role in bringing about the financial stability that enabled the Bills to negotiate an iron-clad lease that ensured the team would remain in Western New York long after original owner Ralph Wilson’s death in 2014. The Fisher alum’s decision to go camping at his alma mater was an integral part of that plan. It wound up being a win-win for the Bills and the college.
As expected, the soap opera that is Aaron Rodgers has intensified with his decision not to attend mini-camp this week in Green Bay. The NFL’s reigning MVP remains adamant about not wanting to return to the Packers, and the team remains adamant about not wanting to trade him. Something’s got to give. Rodgers is still smarting over the Packers’ decision to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round in 2020 rather than using the pick to enhance a Super Bowl-contending roster. Rodgers’ disdain for general manager Brian Gutekunst is palpable, but Packers president Mark Murphy isn’t about to fire Gutekunst.
Interestingly, the Packers have most of their players back from a team that reached the NFC Championship Game, where it lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. So Rodgers would be rejoining a team that has a legitimate chance of winning it all. But the last thing the future first-ballot, Hall-of-Fame quarterback wants to do is play for a team in which Gutekunst and Murphy will reap the rewards of his success.
I still don’t see the Packers trading their 37-year-old signal-caller. And I don’t see Rodgers sitting out the season, though his decision to forfeit $500,000 in off-season workout bonuses is significant. A possible resolution might see Rodgers return with the promise the team will trade him following the season to a team Rodgers approves. Either way, this saga looks as if it will end sadly as it did with Brett Favre’s departure from Green Bay.
I was somewhat surprised with Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to step down as Duke’s basketball coach following the upcoming season. And I say that because, as I’ve learned from nearly a half-century of covering sports, coaching is such a hard habit to kick. I remember how Marv Levy still held faint hopes at age 80 of returning to the NFL sidelines. And this was a guy who was not your typical coach; a guy with a brilliant mind and so many other interests he wanted to pursue. The relationship a coach builds with his or her players, and the feelings of seeing it all come together on game day is tough to replicate.
But upon further review, I can understand why Coach K decided to call it a day. First off, what more is there for him to accomplish? He built the Blue Devils program into a modern-day version of John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty, and he did so during a much more competitive time, a time when parity ruled college basketball. With five national championships, more wins than any men’s coach and three Olympic gold medals, Krzyzewski long ago chiseled his mug onto the Mt. Rushmore of coaches.
The thing, though, that may have forced the 74-year-old’s hand was the relaxation of the transfer rules, which have empowered players to move about like professional free agents. My sense is that Coach K, like his North Carolina counterpart Roy Williams, had no interest in navigating this brave, new world.
That’s great news that the Toronto Blue Jays will continue to play Major League Baseball games at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field through at least July 21. Count me among those who hope to take in a big-league game down the Thruway now that COVID restrictions have been lessened to allow 80 percent seating capacity. Still can’t help but wonder what might have been had Bob Rich’s dream of bringing big-league ball to Buffalo come true back in the early 1990s.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.