Students studying outside the library
Wofford College transforms to accommodate Carolina Panthers training camp

By Drew Brooks
Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mark Line / Spartanburg Herald-JournalWofford College has transformed during the last month, part of a flurry of activity in anticipation of the Carolina Panthers annual training camp this week.

The Panthers logo and the National Football League shield are now a common sight on the east side of campus, where you're now just as likely to see Panther black and blue as you are Terrier gold and black.

Inside the Richardson Building, named for Panthers owner and Wofford trustee Jerry Richardson, athletic offices once reserved for the Terrier basketball team now sport the names of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, team president Danny Morrison and others. Dance studios and racquetball courts have been repurposed into meeting rooms for scouts and players.

Mark Line, Wofford's senior associate athletics director for sports programs, is in his 11th year as liaison between the Panthers and Wofford College. He said work to prepare for training camp began just after the Wofford football team's spring practice, but picked up the pace starting July 1.

Recently, the transformation has been more obvious, and Panthers officials have put up signs and unloaded equipment on campus.

The first players, this year's crop of rookies, arrived on campus Wednesday. The rest of the team began filtering in Thursday, and the Panthers' first practice is from 6:15 to 8:20 p.m. Friday at Gibbs Stadium. The school, in partnership with the team, the city of Spartanburg, the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Spartanburg County Parks Department and Team Spartanburg Sports Council, will host a free “Back to Football” kickoff party from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to coincide with the practice.

After the Panthers arrive — around 200 members of the organization will live on campus for the next three weeks — they'll have the entire campus at their disposal, Line said.

“They sleep in our dorms. They eat in our cafeterias,” Line said before listing campus security, housekeeping and public relations as others involved in the camp. “There's not many not involved.”

On Tuesday, Wofford crews worked to ready the practice fields, locker rooms and other areas for the Panthers, even as officials from the team worked alongside them.

“What we do here is we try to get everything ready for them — give them access to everything we have — and get out of their way,” Line said. “We would do anything to make their stay better.”

To put it another way: whatever the Panthers want or need, Line will get it done.

“It's his building, after all,” Line said, referring to Richardson and his namesake building.

This year, the Panthers are staying near the center of campus in Shipp Hall and DuPré Hall. But some changes have been made to the dorms.

While Cam Newton is only a few years older than most Wofford College students, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback and most of the other players are a lot bigger than most Wofford students, so officials have replaced many of the beds on campus with larger models for the next few weeks.

The bigger beds aren't the only perks players will enjoy. Wofford's dining services will provide four meals a day and will always have food on hand.

“They're big folks, and they eat a lot,” Line said.

Wofford will be reimbursed for their efforts, but the real benefit, Line said, comes from being the home away from home of an NFL franchise.

The training camp is open to the public and draws thousands to the campus and, for that three-week period, the professional franchise is linked to Wofford in countless news articles.

“I don't think you can overstate that,” Line said. “We can't buy that kind of publicity.”

During the training camp, Wofford's football coaches and trainers have the unique ability to observe a professional team, Line said. And the effect on recruiting is immeasurable.

Hosting the Panthers also has helped Wofford upgrade their facilities.

Three fields and practice lighting adjacent to Gibbs Stadium wouldn't exist if not for the camp, Line said.

“No question. It upgrades our facilities a lot,” he said. “We have access to things that other schools our size wouldn't have. It never hurts to be around a world-class organization.”

Panthers president Morrison, who served as Wofford athletic director when the school first hosted the Panthers' training camp, said the school and the team are a perfect fit.

“Everything is so aligned,” Morrison said. “The facilities are excellent, and it's a great opportunity to be in the Upstate.”

“Being the Carolina Panthers, we like to have exposure in both North and South Carolina,” Morrison added. “We feel right at home.”

A contract between Wofford and the Panthers, signed after the original 15-year pact expired in 2010, currently has two years remaining.

And while the team's ties to Wofford are strong — in addition to Morrison, Panthers' owner Richardson is a member of the Wofford College Board of Trustees and is a graduate who played for the Terrier football team before playing for the NFL's Baltimore Colts — officials at the school said they won't take the pairing for granted.

The Panthers are one of a dwindling number of teams that hold camps away from their home stadiums.

Once a common practice, now only 12 teams have training camps off-site, said Wofford Athletics Director Richard Johnson.

The Panthers' NFC South competitors have been among those abandoning their off-site camps in favor of using their regular season facilities. The New Orleans Saints haven't trained at Milsaps College in Jackson, Miss., since 2008. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers last held camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports that same year, and the Atlanta Falcons left Furman University after the 2004 season.

“Sometimes we as a community, we tend to take this for granted,” Johnson said. “It's our 19th year… If this is a resource we want to keep, we need to do everything we can to show our enthusiasm and support.”

“They can go anywhere they want or stay home,” Johnson added. “The community needs to show how important it is to keep them coming. It needs to be a positive for them.”

Morrison, however, said there is no threat to ending the partnership. He said the Panthers coaches like the opportunity to hold a concentrated camp outside of Charlotte while reaching fans who travel from across both Carolinas and the surrounding states. He also said the camp transcends the ties he and Richardson have with Wofford.

“The main thing is we go to Wofford because it's a good fit for our football program,” Morrison said. “And South Carolina is very important. We have great fans in South Carolina... We have such great fans in the two Carolinas.

Copyright © 2013 — All rights reserved. Restricted use only. Reprinted with permission.