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Olivet Nazarene keeps Bears training camp on front burner

Olivet Nazarene University doesn’t want lose name-recognitivalue associated with hosting Bears’ training camp. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Olivet Nazarene University doesn’t want to lose the name-recognition value associated with hosting the Bears’ training camp. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: July 22, 2011 2:18AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Officials at the Bears training-camp home at Olivet Nazarene University took a leap of faith long before NFL owners voted to end the lockout. While players and owners were reviewing a new collective-bargaining agreement Thursday morning, workers were erecting tents and building temporary fences on the Christian college’s campus in anticipation of the Bears’ arrival.

Their fear that training camp would be canceled was evaporating in the stifling heat.

“While we have it down to a ­science, you still don’t want to go through the expense and all the work if it’s not going to be used,” said Gary Griffin, Olivet’s director of alumni relations. “We had already started putting up the main infrastructure. If something were to happen, we would be out some money, but nothing is going to happen. It was a risk, but a calculated one.”

Although Griffin said he would be ready to host the Bears on Monday morning, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to cancel the Hall of Fame exhibition game between the Bears and St. Louis Rams on Aug. 7 means the Bears won’t report to training camp until Wednesday at the earliest and perhaps not until next Friday or Saturday, pending the players’ ratification.

Griffin said uncertainty has made coordinating his 10th Bears camp unlike the nine that came before. Although he has remained in daily contact with Bears president Ted Phillips, he has not been privy to inside information, forcing him to follow media reports while hoping momentum toward a new deal continued.

Meanwhile, sports drinks and portable toilets are being delivered, and he continued to fill what he calls the most important camp job: Driving players and coaches around campus in golf carts. More than 200 temporary workers who serve as maids, security personnel and parking-lot attendants are awaiting word.

“The pressure comes from not knowing and being afraid we’re not as organized as we need to be,” Griffin said. “If camp starts Tuesday, I’d like to have a schedule out by now, if not weeks ago.”

Ed Daugherty describes his level of preparedness as “DEFCON 1.” The school’s general manager of food services has had venders on 24-hour standby because he’s not sure when he’ll have to start preparing three meals and an evening snack daily for up to 90 players as well as coaches and other team officials.

The menu was prepared and approved by the Bears’ training staff in June. Daugherty had planned to serve strip steak, grilled chicken breast, roast turkey, gravy, broccoli, sauteed mushrooms and apple pie for the Bears’ first evening meal tonight. Every lunch and dinner includes stir-fry and pasta stations, salad and pizza bars, fresh fruits and desserts.

He said food-service employees ask him every day when they will start feeding the Bears.

“The Olivet football team can wipe them out,” Daugherty said when asked how much Bears players pack away. “The Bears eat smart. They’re educated.”

ONU is contracted to host Bears camp through 2012; the team has an option for 2013. Phillips has acknowledged that he is considering moving training camp to Lewis University in Romeoville in 2013, although the new CBA could impact that decision. The possibility that training camps could be shortened or that an 18-game regular-season schedule will be contemplated in the future could make it less financially beneficial to that university and community. If the preseason is pushed back, hosting the Bears also might conflict with the start of an academic year, making it difficult for any school to host an NFL team.

ONU boasted record enrollment in each of the three years before the Bears arrived in 2002. It has continued to swell, which Griffin attributes in part to the Bears.

“Sometimes in marketing, it’s hard to connect the dots directly,” he said. “However, you’d be silly not to recognize the name recognition we’ve received from hosting the Chicago Bears. You have to understand what publicity from the third largest media market in the country is worth. Even if we could afford that publicity, we couldn’t buy it.

“We don’t want to lose the Bears for that reason alone.”

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