MINNEAPOLIS -- The 6,501-capacity stadium that will eventually be the centerpiece of the Minnesota Vikings' new practice facility is, at this point, a patch of open dirt. It has no framework yet, no physical outline of where it will eventually sit, and it will be in no shape to host training camp this summer.
But by this time next year? The Vikings' new headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota, will be open for business, and the stadium will be ready to usher in fans for everything from high school lacrosse matches to prep football games. And even though the Vikings have a contract with Minnesota State-Mankato to keep training camp there through 2018, it's conceivable this year's trip to southern Minnesota could be the last time the Vikings leave home for camp.
During a presentation of the team's new practice facility on Wednesday, Vikings COO Kevin Warren stressed no decision had been made about the future of Vikings training camp, which has been held in Mankato since 1966. He acknowledged, though, that the team's deal with the university, which runs through 2018, allows either party to revisit the situation in December and opt out of the agreement. And though Warren spoke warmly of the team's relationship with Minnesota State, he admitted "it's possible" this year could be the Vikings' final training camp there.
The decision about the location of training camp will ultimately rest with the head coach, and those who want to see the Vikings continue to visit Mankato could have an ally in Mike Zimmer, who's been fond of an arrangement that allows players to get away and focus solely on football to start the year. The Vikings haven't had the option to consider anything else in the past, though, and once they've got a glimmering new facility with state-of-the-art training equipment, an in-house surgery and rehabilitation center and spacious areas for meetings and film study, it's easy to see where they'd be tempted to stay in Eagan.
It's even easier to imagine a suburban destination for training camp once the Vikings' business plan for the site is fully developed. The 200-acre site will eventually have hotels, shops, restaurants and a team Hall of Fame, all beckoning fans to spend their money. The businesses sprouting up near the Vikings' new facility will be eager for patrons, and the city of Eagan -- the Vikings' new civic partner -- will undoubtedly view training camp as an opportunity to showcase itself in the same way Mankato has over the years. All those factors -- not to mention the presence of Twin Cities Orthopedics (the Vikings' naming rights partner on the new facility) -- mean training camp might not be long for Mankato.
The issue won't be settled until this winter at the earliest, so when the Vikings make their annual trip south this summer, they'll have plenty to say about how much they value their partnership with Minnesota State, the way they're received when they're there and the impressive condition of the facilities. The university has treated the Vikings well, and upgraded its athletic facilities in recent years (with the help of MSU alum and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor). But when there's an alternative in play that offers smoother logistics (and almost certainly more financial benefit), the quaint arrangement between the Vikings and Mankato could be on its way out.