A giant mural decorates the back wall of the spacious auditorium at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in New Jersey, where members of the NFL’s New York Jets study countless hours of film during the season.
The mural includes a military motto, supersized in a bold Jets green, that offers sound advice in both football and life: “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”
The words speak mostly to the football team’s intense weekly preparation for the field. But they also represent an attitude that the pro sports franchise applies to all of its work, whether from the sidelines or the front office.
It’s a standard that SUNY Cortland, the team’s official training camp partner, works throughout the year to uphold.
This summer, for the fourth time in five years, the Jets will land on the College’s campus for preseason training camp. Although fans and the media will focus their attention on the stars lining up just outside the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, a large team of employees from the College will be working behind the scenes to deliver the type of experience that both the organization and the local community have come to expect.
“There’s a standard of excellence that comes with a billion-dollar sports franchise and, quite honestly, it’s one we’re proud to be a part of,” said Mike Whitlock, head of the College’s Training Camp Planning Committee and the director of Corey Union and campus activities. “The Jets have been good to us and I think both sides — the team and the College — would agree that this truly has been a winning partnership.”
The evidence is in the planning committee made up of nearly two dozen people from departments across campus has been meeting regularly to plan for this summer.
Their conversations aren’t related to quarterback controversies or the NFL Draft, but rather the details that many might take for granted, such as traffic signage, residence hall maintenance and campus Internet upgrades.
“Many of the details, they’re dynamic,” Whitlock said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t plan to the best of our ability. We’re just mindful of the fact that we have to be ready, regardless of what comes up.”
Although the Jets’ needs might change, the College has a reputation for exceeding the expectations of team personnel, Whitlock said. SUNY Cortland, for example, has successfully replicated the team’s Florham Park facility’s classroom space, weight lifting set-up and food services, yet has stayed flexible enough to change the site of the Jets’ 2012 Green and White Scrimmage at the last minute.
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In exchange, Gang Green offers unique benefits to SUNY Cortland. Those benefits, just like the planning process, come throughout the year.
They include advertisements at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets play their home games before tens of thousands of people, as well as national radio spots valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Jets agreement gives the College the ability to host New Jersey-area receptions that allow SUNY Cortland’s admissions team to connect with prospective students and high school guidance counselors. The result has been a boost in out-of-state enrollment, led by students from New Jersey.
The partnership also gives the College an opportunity to match the talents of SUNY Cortland students with the training camp needs of one of the most visible franchises in professional sports. Students are not only afforded work opportunities in their future career fields; they’re allowed to demonstrate their skills on the big stage that is NFL training camp.
This summer, more than 40 students from many different majors will gain hands-on experience with the Jets in media relations, athletic training, event management, and other fields.
“There’s no question that an opportunity on this scale, this close to home, is one very few colleges can provide,” said John Shirley, the College's director of career services. “The Jets provide us that opportunity and we’re able to match them with some of our best and brightest students.”
Then there are the scholarship dollars. Leading up to the holiday season, SUNY Cortland will sell raffle tickets for a pair of Super Bowl tickets that the College receives from the Jets. All of the proceeds generated by that raffle support scholarships.
And none of this includes the estimated $15.56 million in economic activity injected into Cortland County over three training camps, or the community pride generated by the team’s practices.
In other words, the partnership between SUNY Cortland and the New York Jets is measured by more than wins and touchdowns. And that makes both the months of planning and the last-minute scrambling worth it.
“We might not know the exact dates the Jets will be here just yet, but we do know one thing,” Whitlock said. “We’ll be ready for them.”