BOURBONNAIS -- The trend among NFL teams in recent years has been to remain at their own year-round facility for training camp instead of going off site, but the Bears won't be joining that crowd anytime soon.
Team officials announced Monday afternoon they have an agreement with Olivet Nazarene University to continue their summer association for an additional nine years, through 2022.
"The facilities here are second to none," Bears general manager Phil Emery said in announcing the deal alongside ONU President Dr. John Bowling. "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. They are very appreciative of how they're treated when they're in town."
This is the 12th year the Bears have called Bourbonnais their summer home since leaving Platteville, Wis., where they trained for 18 years (1984-2001). Sunday afternoon's practice attracted a crowd of nearly 20,000, the largest in the club's training camp history.
The extension, which technically will be a series of one-year rollover contracts, was made inside the recently opened multipurpose Student Life Recreation Center, a massive 176,000-square-foot facility. It is one of many improvements ONU has made to benefit its students and the Bears.
"This wasn't here 12 years ago, but there has been a tremendous commitment," Emery said. "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."
The relative proximity of Bourbonnais, about 60 miles south of Chicago, is another reason the arrangement has worked so well for the Bears.
"If (there's) anything I have learned as a general manager," Emery said, "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 and have an interaction. I certainly have had that benefit."
Training camps at ONU have attracted a yearly average of about 100,000 fans, who take advantage of free admission and free parking for the three-week sessions.
The association with the Bears has allowed ONU to elevate its profile, according to Bowling.
"We certainly do believe there is a huge impact for the Bourbonnais and the greater Kankakee area," the ONU president said. "We have much stronger name recognition, particularly throughout the Chicago area."
Planned improvements in the future include a complete rebuilding of the practice fields the Bears utilize and a doubling in size of the locker room, along with additional walkways and lighting to improve the fan experience.