This is the first of a two-part story examining NFL training camp culture. Tomorrow, we will examine specifiic organizations and their supposed destinations.

There is no doubt that after working 15 years in the NFL, I understand the reason many coaches, and even owners, want training camp moved from their organization’s headquarters. While the cost reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, the bonding of a team, the togetherness that players foster, and the extent of the resulting friendships last not only a season, but a lifetime.

When training camp starts, there are 80 men on an NFL roster (though this might change in 2011 given the lockout situation) prior to cuts in accordance with the league-mandated 53-man limit. Where team unity is concerned, coaches want to see a group of men bond, with no distractions, and develop one heartbeat – away from home, family and other daily influences. Sleeping in a dorm or hotel room for 20-plus days – not to mention two-a-day practice sessions, meetings, weight-room workouts and the overall fatigue of fighting through the mental strain and physical pain – forces these men to focus on helping and working together toward one common goal.

NFL owners feel the same about unity, but with an eye on the business model, specifically marketing their brand. In looking at the Dallas Cowboys’ model, for example, Jerry Jones built a billion-dollar stadium and opened the doors last season. Prior to last season, the Cowboys split training camp between Texas and Thousand Oaks, Calif. Now, Dallas concentrates solely on the great state of Texas. The Cowboys’ main facility is located in North Texas, while training camp is held in Southwest Texas (San Antonio). This is an example of marketing genius, because in spite of the presence of another NFL team in Texas (the Houston Texans), the Cowboys brand is among the most popular in the entire NFL and all of professional sports.

The logistics of moving the complete football operations of a NFL franchise takes serious planning. The business side of the franchise (ticket office, accounting, corporate and civic affairs, marketing and sales) remains at the headquarters, while the football operations side of the house is moved. The latter sector includes coaching, scouting, equipment, trainers, communications (public relations), IT/computers, travel, video and security.

Like in any business, when addressing the future of a training camp site, the right location is the No. 1 goal. It is extremely important that the city fits the philosophy of the ownership. Next, the head coach, general manager and chief financial officer or president address the applicable university or college facilities. There are several key areas of criteria that a facility must meet, namely, in the housing department.

Generally, teams that go to a college or university sleep in dorms. Several of the teams prefer to stay in hotels. Also of the utmost importance: practice fields. Some coaches want natural grass, while others want turf in case of bad weather. The coaches I’ve worked for wanted a combination of both to take the wear and tear off the players’ legs and minimize the effect of poor weather conditions. Teams also take into account the distance that players have to cover to get to and from the locker room to the field and back. Many teams use golf carts, some ride bikes of fans, and others simply take a short stroll.

Other very important areas of concern are the meeting rooms for each individual position coach and a team room large enough to house daily team meetings. Scouting rooms contain space for film review and a workplace, and can host personnel meetings that take place several times a day or when needed.

As far as the equipment room and laundry facilities go, the equipment staff will convert and transfer every helmet, all shoulder pads and cleats from the headquarters along with all supporting and necessary equipment. The facility must have professional washer and dryer equipment capable of washing and drying several hundred pairs of pants and jerseys, to say nothing of socks and shirts, in one shot.

From a sanitation standpoint, the training facility must be clean and free of potential infectious (virus and staph) issues, and large enough in space to filter 80 players through in a timely manner. There must be room to store a hundred-plus boxes of tape, pre-wrap, gauze and other medical equipment. Ice-filled bathtubs are a must and are used in the process of cooling down players in an emergency situation and after practice to rejuvenate muscles.

If the college or university weight room doesn’t meet the standards of the NFL strength coach, he will bring his own equipment. Some teams have been known to load their complete weight-room equipment onto semi-trucks and relocate their whole weight room for the duration of camp.

The team’s IT department assumes responsibility for moving servers, computers, printers, Wi-Fi systems, fax machines and, in some cases, phone systems. The video department not only packs and moves equipment to film practices, they also transport coaches’ and scouts’ beta machines, screens, hundreds of feet of electrical cords and an almost incalculable amount of tape. Several teams, if not all, have the past several seasons loaded on computer systems; the beta is for emergency situations only – a back-up system, if you will.

The last two departments play equally important roles in the operations area, too. The director of security works with local police department personnel, as well as campus security. Protecting the organization and ownership takes top priority. Not even a mouse can squeeze by the cameras or officers on duty, who drive police cars, golf carts and ride bicycles. Travel is the last department. They handle all travel needed for players who are cut and those who are signed and need flights and travel arrangements. If a team has planned a scrimmage, the travel department works together with the director of football operations to secure a charter plane, hotel and all security arrangements, as if it were a regular road game.

The total number of people who make the migration every year varies from team to team, but usually tops out between 170 and 200.