One day after a record crowd of approximately 20,000 fans attended Bears practice in Bourbonnais, the Bears and Olivet Nazarene University announced an agreement to keep training camp at ONU for the next nine years.
The Bears have been conducting training camp at Olivet Nazarene since 2001. They previously trained in Platteville, Wis. at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. But the Olivet Nazarene site, an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago, allows more Bears fans to attend training camp practices.
‘‘I am very excited to be a part of this process,’’ Bears general manager Phil Emery said. ‘‘The facilities are second-to-none. It has been very interesting to listen to the out-of-town folks that come through people from the national media that see all the camps. The expression is that this has been second to none that they’ve seen. They are very appreciative of how they’re treated when they are in town.
‘‘It starts with this facility. This wasn’t here 12 years ago but there has been a tremendous commitment. We’ve used it in so many ways. We have our personnel meetings here. We have our walk-throughs here. We have our weightlifting sessions here. Our rehab is done in these pools. It just speaks to the commitment of the university, to their students and to the Bears. What a great touch point for the fans.
‘‘If anything that I have learned as a general manager, it’s how important camp is for the fans to be able to reach out and actually kind of feel the players, see who they are, see how they react, have an interaction. I certainly have had that benefit.’’
The agreement bucks a trend in the NFL that has seen more teams move their training camp from off-site campuses to their home facilities — 20 of the 32 teams now train at their home stadium. The Arizona Cardinals moved their training camp from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. to Glendale this summer.
The extension doesn’t necessarily preclude the Bears from joining that trend. While the Bears and ONU have agreed to extend their relationship through the 2022 season, the agreement actually is a series of one-year rollover contracts. But for now Emery is committed to keeping the Bears in Bourbonnais.
‘‘I’ve been part of both [training-camp situations],’’ Emery said. ‘‘When I was with the Atlanta Falcons, we had camp at the facility. I will tell you, this situation is optimal. We’re able to get centrally located. I believe we get more fan influx. We get our players away to where they can kind of come together with their own unique family and team and establish their identity. And you can’t underestimate the fan contact. This facility allows us to do that in a much bigger and better way than we could staying at home.’’