Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
When the UNLV football program was looking for an off-campus site for its fall training camp, a few factors were key to making it work. The team needed a field, enough hotel rooms for its large traveling party and accommodations to feed them all.
Ely, 249 miles north of Las Vegas and the team’s home away from home for the eighth straight year, has all of those things. The clincher, though, was a place none of the players or coaches ever step foot in and few even think about: Ely State Prison.
“If we didn’t have the help of the prison for laundry, we couldn’t do it,” said Terry Cottle, UNLV’s director of football operations. “That’s critical.”
Today is the final full day of practice in Ely. When they board the bus Wednesday bound for Las Vegas, the Rebels will have spent 12 days and 11 nights at an elevation of 6,437 feet, a conditioning benefit that’s one of many things the town offers.
The temperature is the most noticeable advantage and a big reason why then-coach Mike Sanford held the first camp in Ely in 2006. Cottle said assistant Kris Cinkovich was told to keep his eyes open for potential cities while recruiting in Northern Nevada, and it was Pahranagat Valley High coach Ken Higbee who suggested Ely as the destination.
The Rebels’ trek is believed to be the longest of any team in the country, according to a University of Cincinnati list of the 15 Division I teams that travel for training camp. That list includes two other Mountain West schools (New Mexico and Hawaii) and three teams that cross state lines (Cincinnati, Washington State and Northwestern) but only one other that goes at least 200 miles (UTEP).
“We’ve got to go a long way to get out of the heat,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “There isn’t a field on Mt. Charleston.”
Cottle estimated the 12-day excursion costs about $110,000 to $120,000, with the bulk of the expenses going to lodging and feeding the group of approximately 150 players, coaches and team personnel.
About $40,000 goes to hotel rooms, around 70-80 of them, spread out across at least three properties this year. The town of nearly 4,500 people has at least 20 hotels.
Then there’s $50,000 for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day with occasional snacks and late-night meals thrown in, too. Most of the teams’ meals are catered by the owners of the Jail House Casino Motel and served at the Bristlecone Convention Center.
The town may have bristled at first over a perceived takeover, but Cottle said the reception has only gotten better through the years, especially after the economy took a bad turn.
“Once people could see the economic impact, they realized how big this was,” Cottle said.
Hauck sees it too. Some of his first questions when interviewing for the UNLV job were about how the team dealt with the summer heat. Then in May 2010, he came to Ely for an introductory tour.
“I said, 'This is going to be awesome,' and my opinion of it has grown,” Hauck said. “It’s fun to see people here.”
Faces get more familiar through the years, and the team gets along with the high school teachers whose classrooms the Rebels take over for team meetings and film sessions.
If the Rebels stayed in Las Vegas for all of camp, their expenses wouldn’t be much less. Housing one student in the dorms during the summer costs $50 a day, Cottle said. As it stands, UNLV only has to pay that at the beginning of camp for the new players who don’t have their own housing. But, Cottle said, if the team stayed the whole time, it would likely require everyone to stay in the dorms, racking up more housing and food costs at the dining hall.
The rest of the money spent in Ely is used for miscellaneous expenses, such as traveling to and from the city. The team even pays for the supplies used at the maximum-security prison to wash their uniforms.
Few other places have machines large enough for the Rebels to take care of all the equipment they sweat through and muddy up. Without the prison, UNLV would have to search for another place to keep cool and clean.